Matthew 16:21-28

Readings for this week October 25 – 29
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – Does That Sound Right to You?

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 16:21

Everything is backwards. Everything is upside down. The way the kingdom comes is not the way that so many people thought it would, and the Messiah who will inaugurate it doesn’t do and say the things people thought he would. Rather than travel to Jerusalem and confront the religious leaders and the Temple system head on, Jesus is skulking around in the backwaters and far flung regions of the country. Instead of openly proclaiming himself king, Jesus is telling his followers to hold such royal cards very close to their chests and tell no one. And rather than gather an army of zealous warriors and cultural elites and lead them to victory, Jesus is welcoming the poor, the outcast, the misfits and those with little or no social capital at all, and proclaiming that the kingdom belongs to such as them.

And even when Jesus finally says they are heading to Jerusalem, Peter’s and the other disciples’ hopes would no sooner have been raised than immediately dashed when Jesus tells them that the chief priests will persecute and kill him. It’s all backwards. Yes, we are marching on Jerusalem, yes we are going to confront the corrupt religious leaders, and yes the kingdom is going to come, and yes the true king will be lifted up and exalted – but all of this will come to pass through the suffering and death of Jesus himself at the hands of his opponents. It is not surprising that, to Peter especially, this might look like the opposite of a win for the good guys.

Questions to Consider
Why did Jesus tell the disciples what would happen ahead of time? What did he hope to achieve by doing so?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, show me how to trust you when it looks like doing so will end badly. Show me more and more how to have faith in where you lead me when the way looks dark or painful. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – An Understandable – But Wrong – Response

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 16:22

Messianic expectation didn’t include a sacrificial death. The fervid times may have seen many individuals and groups hoping for the advent of the Messiah or, in some cases, planning to try and bring it about. But these hopes and dreams were of a type that largely envisioned national restoration and renewal, God’s rescue of his people from oppression and foreign domination, and the vindication of God’s people before the nations of the world. A Messiah that was bloodily tortured and executed by the occupying power was definitely not something people thought would happen. Isaiah may speak of the suffering servant, and there were plenty of Old Testament texts – the prophets and Psalms in particular – that invoked violent imagery in their depiction of reactions to God’s servant. But that the Messiah would die – or would need to die – was not an expectation.

So Peter’s vehement response to Jesus’ words is understandable. Death would be a defeat. It would be the destruction of all that Jesus had invested in his disciples and all that they had invested in him. Peter cannot yet envision life without Jesus, cannot bear to imagine a world without his master and friend beside him. The teaching, the preaching, the healing, the miracles, the rapturous reception they have often been given – for Peter the only way things are heading is up, into greater acclaim and honour for the soon to be revealed true king. But for Jesus it is different: the only way is up the slopes of that barren, bloodied hillside outside Jerusalem.

Questions to Consider
Why do you think Peter took Jesus aside to rebuke him? How does this match up with the Peter from the previous passage? How is it different?

Prayer
Lord God, thank you for your sacrifice and for pushing past our human stubbornness and giving yourself, even though we often show how much we don’t understand it or deserve it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Will that Be Us Too?

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 16:23-24

It is possible, at a subliminal level, that concern for Jesus’ well-being isn’t Peter’s only impetus for speaking up against Jesus’ claim of what will happen once they head to Jerusalem. Perhaps self-preservation also played a part in prompting Peter to rebuke Jesus. Perhaps he was also thinking of his own skin and what might happen to him once they reached the holy city. After all, he had been watching and learning from Jesus. He had begun to do the same things as Jesus, even being sent out with the other disciples to teach and heal just as Jesus had been doing. If he is closely associated with Jesus and if he has been engaging in the same activities, does that mean the same fate awaits him?

Following Jesus has consequences. It’s a fairly safe bet that at the moment of first being called to follow Jesus, on the shore with his boat, fishing net in hand, Peter had no idea of the full implications of what dropping the net and walking with Jesus would mean for him. That was something he would learn – slowly, bit by bit – along the way. All he knew at that moment was that he had to follow. At each step he had a choice whether to continue on or turn back. Fear sometimes got the better of him (especially after Jesus’ arrest; but even when he ran ahead he still hung around) but even when he messed up, he didn’t turn back. We know the potential consequences of following – and we have a choice at each step too.

Questions to Consider
Do we ever act like Peter does here? Do we doubt God’s plan or think ours is better instead of trusting and following God’s leading?

Prayer
Gracious God, forgive my doubt. Forgive my desire to avoid the hard consequences that faithfully following you will involve. Mould me and make me a vessel for your love and a tool in your hand. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – A Great Reversal

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 16:25-27

We’ve covered quite a bit of ground so far in our year-long journey through the gospel of Matthew. We have seen a lot of Jesus in action: healing people, restoring them to themselves and to the wider community; proclaiming the coming kingdom of God; teaching people a new way to live with and for others in the light of that same coming kingdom. He has been recognised as the Messiah, God’s anointed, by his closest followers and has now told them that they will be heading to Jerusalem where the final confrontation with the religious and political powers that be will take place. And he will seemingly end up on the wrong side of the final balance sheet – and yet, as impossible as it seems to his followers, will ultimately triumph.

Try to save your life and you will lose it; lose your life for Jesus’ sake and you will find it. This is a succinct summary of all that Jesus has been doing and saying to this point. And beyond summary, it is also a call and challenge to follow and a warning about the consequences of doing so. The way of Jesus is risky and all must be given up to walk it. It involves living sacrificially for others, living an upside down life, a backwards life – exactly the type of life that Jesus lived and called others to live. Faith – and faithfulness – is required, but as unlikely as it seems at first glance, vindication will follow, if we trust in the one who gave himself on Calvary.

Questions to Consider
How do we try and save our lives? How does this lead us to lose it? Is there anything which you are not willing to let go of for the sake of following Christ? Is there are anything you are holding onto that you shouldn’t?

Prayer
Loving Father, help me let go of the things that come between us and drag me away from your embrace. Give me the wisdom to know what impedes me and the strength to do away with it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – The Consequences

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 16:28

Scripture only records the final fate of two of the original twelve disciples: Judas Iscariot, who in the aftermath of his betrayal of Jesus, went out and hanged himself; and James the son of Zebedee, who was executed by Herod around 44AD. Of the other ten, we have only what older traditions have recorded, and whether what the legends and stories have preserved is really what happened, we cannot definitively say. But it is interesting to note that, apart from John, son of Zebedee, exiled to the island of Patmos, according to tradition all of the remaining nine disciples were killed for their faith. Methods of execution ranged from crucifixion, speared to death by soldiers, being stoned to death and being burnt alive; the locations of their martyrdoms include from Persia, Syria, Ethiopia and Greece.

Following Jesus can be risky. Initially it didn’t matter where you were; in a world of divine pantheons and semi-divine kings and emperors, claiming allegiance to Jesus was a dangerous thing to do. This is still the case for so many in our world today who live in countries where being Christian is seen as suspicious and where laws guaranteeing safety and freedom of religion are possibly non-existent or probably not enforced. The majority of Christians today live in dangerous neighbourhoods that are often poor and where they belong to ethnic, linguistic and cultural minorities. And they are often at risk of persecution, discrimination and bring attacked for their faith.

Questions to Consider
What did Jesus mean in saying this? What does “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” look like?

Prayer
Father God, help me to deny myself, take up my cross each day, and follow you only, wholly, and faithfully. Help me do the good works that you have created me to do, for the benefit of those you call me to serve. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Matthew 16:13-20

Readings for this week October 18 – 22
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – Who Am I?

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 16:13-14

Jesus has taken his disciples away from their normal stomping ground. He has taken them to the region of Caesarea Philippi which is up in the far northern reaches of the land of Israel, away from the main centres of activity – certainly far away from the realm of Herod Antipas, who had recently executed John the Baptist. Based on past experience, we can perhaps see why Jesus has brought his closest followers up here, away from the powerful and the networks the powerful operate and control. And when he asks the disciples who people say he is, their answers confirm Jesus’ precautions and give us a very interesting glimpse into how the ordinary citizens of Israel view Jesus.

John the Baptist. Elijah. Jeremiah. These are the closest references people have for who Jesus is and what he’s doing. Prophets. Wild men in the desert. Those who fearlessly stand up to the rulers and powers that be and boldly act as God’s mouthpiece against sin, injustice and wickedness, speaking (disturbing) truth to power and calling on (all) people to repent and return to God. In other words, not a quiet, peaceful, minding-his-own-business teacher of gentle proverbs and profound maxims, but a discomforting, borderline rebellious prophet intent on stirring up God’s people in such a way as to make them worthy of the name of God’s people. That’s what people are reminded of when they see and hear Jesus. That’s the impression that his teaching and healing and preaching makes.

Questions to Consider
Is a wild troublemaking prophet the type of person you think of when you think of Jesus? Why or why not?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, you are not comfortable and sometimes your love is not easily digestible. Your love disrupts and reorients us. Keep me watchful for those moments when you seek to trouble us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – A Question for All of Us, All the Time

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 16:15

The question that Jesus asks of his disciples – “Who do you say that I am?” – is one that all of us answer every day. It wasn’t just a question for those first disciples, Jesus forcing them to wrestle with the truth of his identity before revealing to them the next step in their journey with him. And it wasn’t a question they were only confronted with once. Each time Jesus said or did something new, something surprising, they would no doubt be asking themselves and each other: who is this guy? It’s a question for us too, and it isn’t a ‘one off’ question either. The importance of who Jesus is resonates through us and through every day of our lives. It isn’t a question dealt with only once when we first make the choice to follow him. It’s one that comes up again and again, both consciously and unconsciously.

In every word we say and action we undertake, in everything we do and even in the things that we choose not to do, we show who we think Jesus is: whether he is the Lord of our life and the one who is the centre of who we are, the one we take direction and guidance from, the one we try – with his help – to imitate; or whether he is someone we pay occasional lip service to, whom we follow at our convenience and whom we approach when in need but at other times keep our distance. Either way, our words and actions reveal to those around us who Jesus really is for us. What type of Jesus do they see?

Questions to Consider
How often does Jesus force you to ask who he really is? How often are you forced to re-evaluate who he is for you?

Prayer
Lord God, help me be a better signpost to you, a better, more representative ambassador for your kingdom. Remind me minute by minute, hour by hour, that what I do shows others what I believe about you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – More Than You Think

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 16:16-17

But wait, there’s more! The classic infomercial (remember them?) refrain, heard time and time again on day time TV and late night broadcasts, for those old enough to remember. A whole lot of hyperbole is spouted about a new product now available, all the amazing things it can do/provide – and just when you think there couldn’t possibly be anything else to say – but wait, there’s more! There is an element of this in this week’s passage from Matthew. There is no denying that Jesus’ message and ministry are profoundly prophetic – the people are not wrong with their comparisons to John and Elijah and Jeremiah. But there is more going on below the surface that only some have understood so far, something deeper that Peter is slowly beginning to understand.

Jesus is more than just a prophet and Peter, and no doubt some of the other disciples, is starting to get a glimpse of what that really means, of what might actually be happening – of who Jesus really is. “You are the Messiah” – Jesus is not just a prophet railing against the corrupt rulers of his time; he is also the true king, the Son of the living God, the one who is the world’s rightful ruler who will eventually defeat, do away with and replace these interloping usurpers who claim to rule in God’s name and enforce God’s will. For Jesus to ask his disciples who they think he is is a sure sign that he believes they’re beginning to grasp the reality of who he is. They don’t understand it all now, not even Peter. But the light is beginning to dawn, for the disciples, Israel and the world.

Questions to Consider
How do you think Peter came to this conclusion? What role did God play? What role does he play in how we come to believe?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of faith. Thank you for not leaving it all on my shoulders but graciously bending down to reach me. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – On the Way

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 16:18-19

This is a key moment in the life of Peter. He has recognised who Jesus is and declared it in front of Jesus and in front of his friends, and Jesus has endorsed Peter’s proclamation. Through the grace of God, Peter has seen something, has had something deeply profound and life changing revealed to him, and he has embraced it and declared it. God has been at work in Peter and Peter has been paying attention. Jesus even gives him a new name, Cephas, ‘Rock’, as a sign that, because of his recognition of Jesus as Messiah, Jesus was prepared to build his new building, his new community, around the rock of his most impulsive disciple.

But Peter is not there yet. There is still more work to be done in him. Just a few verses further on from where we are now he will show that, while he has recognised who Jesus truly is, he hasn’t even begun to understand what that means for what Jesus is going to do and what it will require of both Jesus and himself. Peter still has a long way to go, something his failure in the following passage – which will by no means be his last failure either – will show. Peter’s journey towards Jesus – seeing, declaring, failing, seeing anew – mirrors ours. We catch a glimpse, we begin to understand, we get it wrong or fail to see deeply enough – but Jesus still calls us on because, like his calling and naming of Peter, he knows who we are and wants us with him on the journey, no matter what.

Question to Consider
How have you come to understand God’s love for you in the midst of your triumphs and your tragedies and failures?

Prayer
Loving God, I stumble and fall but you do not abandon me or discard me. Your grace is more than I deserve but so much of what I need in order to be with you and serve you. Thank you for your faithfulness. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Title, Truth, and Timing

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 16:20

We come to another instance of Jesus telling his disciples to remain silent and not tell anyone of what they have spoken. Caesarea Philippi is a good place to have this conversation, away from the prying eyes and ears of the national and religious leaders, and away from those who have a very firm, definite idea of what a Messiah should – and will – look like. Once word of Jesus’ messianic claims gets out, people will flock to him as never before and his movement would very quickly gain attention of the wrong sort, from ordinary people with their own messianic expectations and hopes, and from leaders wanting either to co-opt the Jesus movement and bend it to their own ends, or stop it in its tracks if it looks like producing the wrong sort of Messiah.

Knowing what we know now, we can easily see that no one was going to be accurate in their estimation of what a Messiah would look like, what a Messiah would say and do. Jesus would confound expectations and redefine Messiahship in ways that his contemporaries simply couldn’t countenance. Even the disciples would have a hard time grasping the new meaning of the word that had carried the hopes of the entire nation for so long. But this was no reason for Jesus to reject the title. To be circumspect, yes – no need to rile up the opposition any earlier than necessary. But, even if not fully understood yet, the truth of Jesus’ identity had now been spoken and as the disciples would soon realise, the road to Jerusalem now beckoned.

Questions to Consider
How does God confound your expectations? How has this led you to trust him more and grow in him?

Prayer
Lord God, keep me on my toes and make me alert to the ways in which you move and work in people’s lives in ways I might not expect. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Matthew 15:21-28

Readings for this week October 11 – 15
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – The Exorcist

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 15:21-22

It is interesting that, while there is much talk in the Old Testament about the coming of the Messiah and his role in bringing about the rule of God and rescuing his people from bondage and oppression, exorcisms were not a regular part of the Old Testament predictions of the Messiah (although both David and Solomon had reputations as exorcists); neither were they automatically an expected characteristic of the Messiah in the Jewish world of the first century. Many people were hoping the Messiah would come, and were also hopeful of deliverance from spiritual affliction, but weren’t necessarily expecting the two to come from the same quarter. And yet exorcism was something that Jesus quickly became known for, one of the defining features of his ministry and a tell-tale sign of his powerful anointing by God and the breaking-in of his kingdom.

Jesus saw himself involved in a battle, but not a political battle (directly) against the power of Rome and its legions, but against the corrupting, deforming power of Satan and the demonic forces that (amongst other things) stood behind the Roman authorities and behind the other powers that were distracting God’s people from their proper role as his presence on earth. The battle was real and the exorcisms and healings that Jesus performed were a sure sign that he was winning the conflict – and offered hints of what life in the fullness of the kingdom would look like – but the final victory would not be consummated until Jesus arrived upon that hilltop outside Jerusalem.

Question to Consider
What does the spiritual battle Jesus was involved in tell us about his mission and his calling and his purpose?

Prayer
Lord God, you are Lord of all. Thank you for rescuing us from all possible bondages and enslavement. Help us free others in your name. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – A Specific Call to a Specific People

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 15:23-24

Why would Jesus initially refuse to help this Canaanite woman? The reason is because she is not part of his primary target audience. Jesus had a mission – in fact, a calling – and he had a specific target for that mission, a particular people he had been called to go to. That people was Israel, his people, God’s people. Because if anybody needed to know that God is moving and that his promises are now coming to fulfilment, it’s the very people that God called to bear his promises to the world. If they are in danger of forgetting those promises, Jesus is there to remind them. If they are desperately longing for the promises to become a reality, Jesus is there to show them it is finally happening through him.

God had called and chosen the Jews as his promise bearers to the world. Jesus had to go to Israel first because the message of renewal and fulfilment was always aimed at them first, for them to take and proclaim to the rest of the world. To ignore them or skip over them to go somewhere else first would be tantamount to declaring himself a liar – that their call was not important and their task not necessary. God had always promised that new life would come through Israel. They were and are and will remain his chosen people. ‘Israel’ is not being done away with, but is being enlarged and redefined – but only after Jesus takes the message of promise fulfilment to the Jews – the rightful chosen recipients of God’s grace – first.

Questions to Consider
What is your reaction to Jesus’ refusal to help this woman? How is a greater purpose being served?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help us see where you are leading us and where you want us to be. You have people marked out for us to journey with. Help us be guided by you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Dogs

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 15:25-26

The passage in Matthew that we are looking at this week is problematic for several reasons but, in the political and social climate we are in at the moment, there is one key issue that stands out – or should do if we are paying close attention. On the surface of this passage it looks like Jesus is initially refusing to help this woman in need because she is from the wrong place and belongs to the wrong people, the wrong race. Jesus responds to her plea with the statement that he was sent only to the people of Israel, and then, when the Canaanite woman pleads again, he doubles down on his rejection of her by introducing an analogy that equates her and her people with dogs. Even if the mission is ‘Israel first’, need he be so derogatory? Might he be being a little bit, um, well, racist here?

Dogs. Vermin. Apes. Cockroaches. Viruses. Jesus’ words resonate very uncomfortably in the wake of the last handful of centuries of western history in particular. It is jarring to have such words fall from the mouth of the Messiah, the Son of God, and to know that today, if someone behind a shop counter, for example, refused to serve someone because of their ethnicity and where they were from, we know exactly what word would be used to describe that shop worker. But there is something more going on here, something that explains Jesus’ reaction – and also why he did also respond positively to the woman and grant her request. Israel first, then the world – but sometimes things don’t go according to plan – for good, inspiring, surprising reasons.

Question to Consider
Why does Jesus use such language to refer to the Canaanites?

Prayer
Gracious God, help us see the bigger picture when we don’t understand. Help us act in line with your saving love towards all people in all places, no matter who or where they are. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – The Kingdom Breaking Through

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 15:27

Jesus came to the Jews first, but not exclusively. That was always God’s plan. He had called the Jews to be his chosen people not just for their own sake, but in order to be his representatives on earth, to take his message of love and embody it as his ambassadors to all the people of the world. That was their call – even if so many of them had forgotten it. Those God chooses are chosen for others and the Jews needed to be reminded of this, reinvigorated as God’s people – all of them, even those (or especially those) who had for whatever reason been denied their place in the body of the people of God. And then they could take the promises of God and share them with the rest of the world; the kingdom could begin to come.

But much to the consternation and surprise of many of the Jews, the kingdom of God kept breaking through in unexpected ways and places. Gentiles from the East had visited him as a child; a Roman centurion had expressed faith in Jesus; and this Canaanite woman showed faith and confidence in Jesus to be able to heal her daughter. And Jesus’ response shows that even he was perhaps (pleasantly) taken by surprise at finding such faith as the woman exhibited. The reach of God, that was always envisaged as extending to the entire earth and everyone in it, was already manifesting itself in kingdom moments like the one precipitated by this Canaanite woman’s faith in Jesus.

Questions to Consider
When has God surprised you? When has he worked through someone that surprised you and made you more aware of his love for all people?

Prayer
Almighty God, when you surprise me, you remind me that you move in ways beyond my comprehension. You talk to people and move through people in unexpected ways that show how much you do that I miss. Help me see you more and more in all that I see. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Faith in Unexpected Places

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 15:28

The Canaanite woman is a remarkable example of faith, something that even Jesus marvels at and commends. Not only does she believe that Jesus can heal her daughter, but even the way she addresses him – as son of David – shows a high level of faith in and respect of Jesus, a level of faith that even his disciples were still struggling to get their heads around, despite everything that they had already seen and heard. She is calling to Jesus because she believes that he is the one who can do this, who can heal her child. And she shows great confidence and self-possession too. Not bristling at the designation of her people as ‘dogs’, she picks up Jesus’ insult and uses it against him. Fine, the dogs don’t eat with the children. But they still get fed, even if only scraps.

Even the dogs get the crumbs. Even those not initially the targets of the loving generosity and redemptive work of Israel’s God will receive the benefits of it eventually, even if only as leftover scraps once the main work is finished. That is the point the woman makes and she does it by accepting Jesus’ premise and taking it a step further. If the Jews truly are God’s chosen people, called to proclaim the promises of God to the entire world, then surely Israel’s Messiah will ultimately bring that blessing to the entire world too. In other words, through the Jews to the entire world, for the entire world. Even the dogs will get the crumbs. And so, if that’s true, why not show that it’s true by starting now with my daughter?

Questions to Consider
What do you think of the Canaanite woman’s persistence in pursuing Jesus? What do you think of her argument against Jesus?

Prayer
Holy Lord, thank you that we can come to you however we may be feeling and wherever you are, and you will listen. Help us be as open and as approachable as you are. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Matthew 15:1-20

Readings for this week October 4 – 8
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – Something New This Way Comes

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 15:1-2

Somehow I don’t think the scribes and Pharisees have come all the way from Jerusalem just to ask Jesus an innocent question, gratefully accept the answer he gives, and then ruminate on its implications on the way back home. They’re out to trip him up, to tangle him in controversy, and force him into a slip of the tongue that they can use to condemn him. Is Jesus a loyal Israelite? Does he show fidelity to the treasured symbols of Israelite identity? Does he honour the Lord, Israel’s God, by observing the Law and keeping the sacred traditions? Is he loyal to the nation and its God? Or is he actually undermining his own people and dishonouring his God by flagrantly ignoring – or, worse subverting – God’s ways?

Because according to the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus and his disciples don’t do things the right way, the old way, the prescribed way – the way we’ve always done it. And that is the surest sign of their apostasy. Never mind that God is bringing something new to birth in the ministry of his son. Never mind that the time that the people of Israel have been waiting for has finally arrived in a manner unexpected and a person officially unendorsed. Too stuck in the old ways – which aren’t bad in themselves, but can turn into a stumbling block when blindly adhered to and revered in place of the God who gifted them – the Pharisees have so blinded themselves to the true intent and character of God that they fail to recognise him when he arrives amongst them in person.

Questions to Consider
When has God done something in a new way in your life? Did it take a while to see what he was doing? What changed your view of it?

Prayer
Lord God, help me not become stuck in my ways or reliant on what has always worked before. Keep me alert for the new ways in which you are moving and speaking. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Looking for a Way Out

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 15:3-7

Asked about washing hands, Jesus talks about honouring (or not honouring) parents. Why the change in subject? Because he knows what the Pharisees are trying to do to him, but he also knows what they have themselves been doing. And it’s worse than what they accuse his followers of. The commandment to honour your mother and father was one that some Pharisees (and others) were paying lip service to but actually flouting. The Pharisees were abusing the proper meaning of the ‘korban’, or offering, in order to deprive their aging parents of any filial assistance. If something was declared ‘korban’ it was offered to God. Children were freed from having to use it to support their parents; they were claiming that such dispensation freed them from having to look after their parents in their old age.

Those in charge were gaming the system for their own benefit, creating ‘tradition’ for their own use; bending the rules just enough to make it easier for them to tiptoe around them without actually violating or breaking them – and without having to change themselves or risk being shaken out of their comfort zone. The truth behind the words of the Pharisees was that they really had no intention of trying to find out what God desired, of following where he was leading, of living in a way that opened them up to whatever new thing God was doing. Their human traditions took precedence over divine commands. Rote, unthinking (and yet still selfishly calculated) action was more important than heart transformation and openness to the new ways the Spirit of God was moving.

Question to Consider
How might our traditions limit our ability to see what God is doing?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, remind us when we need to change. Show how to be better at living out your love and concern for all people. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – What Comes Out

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 15:10-11

We all know what goes into our mouths: food. No problem there. Well, actually, yes, there may be a problem there depending on what type of food, but that’s another issue entirely, one that the Pharisees were keen to discuss with Jesus (in order to accuse him of violating the Law again). But once again, the arrows of the Pharisees miss their target because Jesus has moved on once more – further on and deeper in – to look at what we all know comes out of our mouths: words. The Pharisees want to snag Jesus on the hook of ritual impurity, but Jesus is looking at a deeper, more profound level of purity: not what goes into our mouths, which may defile us, but what comes out of our mouths, which will reveal us.

Our words reveal what is deep down inside us. Actions like murder and stealing and fornicating are visible and observable, but such actions are often hinted at and revealed in the words people speak, words which in turn reveal the hidden thoughts and churning imaginings tumbling around in people’s minds. We give our motivations away in our speech; it is reflective of who we are and what we really think and believe. Whatever outward purity rules we might follow, the words that come out our mouths show to what extent our innermost self needs changing and transformation if we are to become the Christ-like people God wants us to be and that the world needs us to be. Our words matter. They show to what extent we are God’s.

Questions to Consider
How easy do you find it to tame your tongue? What do your words say about you? What would others say about your words?

Prayer
Almighty God, stop me when my words do not honour you and comfort and affirm others. Change my heart and cleanse my tongue; purify me and make me more like you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – To Be Pure

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 15:12-14

Jesus came telling stories and performing miracles that showed God’s kingdom, that revealed the kingdom and what it was like, inviting people to join in and be part of the new thing – that was really the culmination of the old thing – that God was doing. Jesus was sowing the seeds of the kingdom. He was sowing plants with the intention that they would grow and prosper; that a renewed people, people purified from their sins and selfish desires, would flourish and thrive, while those who looked to the rules and laws and wayward leaders would be ripped out of the ground and discarded in the harvest. Those, like the Pharisees, still clinging to the purity laws as the only possible solution to Israel’s (and humanity’s) plight, were just like the blind leading the blind – both would end up lost on the wrong path and might very well come to a bad end.

Are we well planted? Are we pure? And though it’s hard to ignore some of the negative connotations that have since been attached to that word ‘pure’, here we note the important distinction between the distasteful ideological use of that word and the way Jesus means it: no one other than Jesus can make us or declare us (or anyone) pure. Through his life, death and resurrection and the bestowing of his Spirit upon us, Jesus is the remedy – the only remedy – to the impurity and wickedness and sinfulness that cripples us. What we need to do is apply the remedy, submit to God and be transformed by the one he sent.

Questions to Consider
What does it mean, and what does it look like, to be pure? What is our role in ensuring we are?

Prayer
Loving Father, only you can make us pure and remove our wickedness and rebellious tendencies. May we only look to you, not to anything or anyone else, to make us so. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Purity of Heart

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 15:15-20

For Jesus, purity of heart is more important than ritual purity. Once again, despite the Pharisaic accusations of laxity and disregard for the Law, when looked at closely, what Jesus is calling for ends up looking even more stringent than what he is accused of doing away with and ignoring. Jesus looks beyond the outward show, past the ritual and the actions, right to the ‘heart’ of the matter. He’s more interested in what is happening at the fundamental level of motive and intention and will. The call to circumcise the heart (rather than the flesh) that Deuteronomy 10:16 mentions seems very much to dovetail with what Jesus has in mind here. A rigid adherence to the rules without the requisite change of heart to go with it is pointless and suffocating.

I can go through the ritual actions piety demands and to all outward appearances show myself to be a visible adherent to the faith and lover of God – and yet at the level of heart and motive be adrift on a sea of indifference and apathy and spite. Why keep the purity laws in the first place? To become the person God always wanted me to be – someone pure through and through, not just on the surface, but all the way down to the depths of my being, my personality, my character. The purity laws were meant to be means to an end – a community of transformed, purified, Christ-like people sharing God’s redeeming love with all others – not an end in themselves. It is purity of heart that counts.

Questions to Consider
What do you know you need to be purified of? What needs to be cut out of your life? How will you do this? How will you let God transform you?

Prayer
Sovereign Lord, transform me through and through. Thoroughly change me, reorient me in your direction, purify me again from the things that contaminate and make me a new creation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Matthew 14:22-36

Readings for this week September 27 – October 1
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – A Rhythm with the Father

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 14:22-23

We’re jumping around a bit, but we’re now in the aftermath of Jesus feeding the crowd of 5000 with some loaves and fishes. Having sent the disciples ahead of him in the boat to the other side of the lake, Jesus finally gets to do what he was intending to do before the crowds found him: he spends some time alone, up the mountainside, praying – perhaps also grieving for his slain cousin. The rhythm of time alone with his Father was a regular one for Jesus; the gospel writers record many such occasions, usually in just a brief sentence or two, not drawing undue attention to it, but also not neglecting to show us these moments when Jesus takes time alone to be in communion with his Father.

Regular time alone with God is vital. Yes, God is with us throughout each moment of the day, in each action and event, in each encounter with others, in each step we take in his world. He is there and he is reachable. But there need to be those times too, when we stop, retreat, and rest in his presence, to be reminded that we are his child and he is our Heavenly Father, guiding and sustaining us in all that we do. To remind ourselves that he is the centre and foundation of our very selves. Jesus knew it and enacted it as a regular rhythm in his life – one that could be interrupted when necessary, but that was nevertheless crucial for maintaining his relationship with his Father.

Questions to Consider
What does your rhythm of time with God look like? How is it regular? How is it flexible?

Prayer
Lord God, bless my time with you. Give me the discipline to regularly seek the stillness of your presence and to take the time to find myself anew in you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Getting Out of the Boat

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 14:24-28

In the film Apocalypse Now, about a US Army river patrol boat’s mission down the Nùng River during the Vietnam war, after a near fatal onshore encounter with a tiger, the character of Chef, now terrified but back on board, repeats to himself, “Never get off the boat, never get off the boat.” Unfortunately for him (spoiler alert), in the end that decision never to get off the boat costs him his life. Amazingly, considering the fact that the boat was being battered by a storm, Peter didn’t have that problem. Notice that Jesus does not initiate calling Peter out of the boat, but that Peter, looking for proof that it is Jesus, volunteers to come out of the boat, onto the water. Peter is prepared to leave the relative safety of the boat – and suffer the consequences – in order to see if it is Jesus.

If it had not been Jesus, Peter would have plunged into the water and found himself being flung about by the waves and the wind. And even though it was Jesus, Peter found himself walking on water (!) until suddenly he wasn’t anymore. Either way, though it wasn’t a life and death decision like Chef’s, I think it was in some way necessary for Peter to get out of the boat. He needed both to stretch himself and be stretched. He needed to put himself in a position where he could not rely on his own resources but where his faith could be moulded and tempered and grown into something bigger and stronger than before.

Questions to Consider
How is God calling you to get out of the boat? What will you do in response?

Prayer
Gracious God, grow my trust. Take me out into new waters where there are new things you have for me to do. Press me and strengthen me for your service. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Little Faith that Grew a Little

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 14:29-31

We’ve been here before. It seems that there’s an equation written into the fabric of the universe that states “disciples + boat = little faith” – and so many of them fishermen too. Previously Jesus had rebuked the disciples for their ‘little faith’ when a storm had arisen and threatened them while they were out in the middle of the lake. Times got tough then, and perhaps Jesus was a little disappointed that, even though they came to him for help, they hadn’t tried to solve the crisis themselves, to trust Jesus to work through them to deal with the situation. After all, they would one day have to show such trust, right?

But this time it’s just Peter, and this time it seems like Peter at least has grown a bit, has moved on a little from that disciple that Jesus castigated along with the rest during the storm. Because when Peter sees Jesus walking on the water towards him, his way of determining that it really is Jesus is to do what Jesus is doing. If it really is you, Peter says, then call me out so I can do what you are doing – walk on the water. He knows that he can’t actually walk on water, but he’s beginning to understand that maybe he can actually do something insanely miraculous like that because of Jesus. Maybe a life that contains Jesus can also contain miracles only dreamed of. It doesn’t quite come off; he flounders when he becomes more focused on the waves than on the one causing him to walk on them. But he is beginning to think bigger than he was before.

Questions to Consider
What growth in your relationship with God have you noticed recently? How are you more trusting and more open to the new things of God?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, give me courage for the new and the untried, the strength to step along the new paths and ways that you call me. May impossibility and lack of experience never be a barrier. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Discipleship in Miniature

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 14:32-33

This episode of Jesus walking on the water – and Peter trying to – is in many ways an excellent metaphor for being a follower of Jesus. We can see in the events of this passage a good example of what being a disciple is actually like, both the good and the bad, the positive and the not quite so positive. Peter sees Jesus walking on the water and tries, with Jesus’ help, to do the same as him. In a nutshell, that’s discipleship. After all, isn’t that what we’re all trying to do: imitate Jesus? Do what we see him doing in the world? Copy his example, doing our best to do just as he did?  Sometimes we succeed and walk on the waves for a few steps; often we seem to fail and plunge back into the water.

With our eyes and our attention on Jesus, like Peter, we can walk on the waves and imitate our Lord. But, also just like Peter, it is so easy for us to get distracted by the waves and the world around us – by our worries and fears and desires and addictions – and suddenly find ourselves floundering, our efforts failing, and things just not going the way we had hoped they might. But we carry on, reconfirmed in our purpose, fully aware again of how dependent on Jesus we are for anything and everything. We try and do our best to keep our eyes on Jesus, to follow where he leads, listening for his voice and the words of comfort, encouragement and (occasional) rebuke that he offers.

Questions to Consider
When have you failed (or only got it half right) in following Jesus? What did you take from this failure for next time?

Prayer
Almighty Father, forgive my foibles and failures. When I get it wrong, help me up again and show me the way forward. Grow me and grow my faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – The Confounding Lord

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 14:34-36

Jesus is Lord of Creation, the rightful King of this world, the one for whom and through whom all things were made. And yet, as this passage on the water has shown, in so many ways he just does not fit. He surprises. He turns up where he shouldn’t and does so in ways that are just not normal or expected. He does things that beggar belief and confound belief and stretch belief beyond the bounds of what we think is possible – and then dares to invite us to see such incredible and impossible things as the new normal, the true way of things, the burgeoning of the kingdom among us. And then he invites us to do as he does.

When Jesus came towards them across the water, the disciples couldn’t believe it; they thought he was a ghost. He turned up at a time and in a place and manner that they couldn’t believe or comprehend and that terrified them. They had been living with him and listening to him and following him more closely and for longer than anyone else and yet they still didn’t know what to make of him. The disciples still had so much to learn and still so much to unlearn too. Jesus taught them and explained things to them and mentored them, yes, but he also continually surprised them and upended their thinking and their expectations. He will do so to us too – complacency and overconfidence are not the hallmarks of disciples. But with faith and watchfulness, we can be ready for the unexpected king whenever and wherever he shows and wherever he would have us go.

Questions to Consider
How does Jesus not fit? How does he call us to not fit either?

Prayer
Holy Lord, give us the wisdom to know how to live your way in your world, even when that means we don’t fit and we cause trouble – righteous trouble just as you did. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Matthew 13 & 14

Readings for this week September 20 – 24
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – Not Always the Welcome You Want

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 13:53-56

Sometimes friends and family aren’t all they could be. Sometimes they don’t get it. Sometimes they don’t see what you want them to, what you need them to. Sometimes, rather than supporting you and being in your corner, they’re in the opposite corner, against you, with the crowd and jeering rather than cheering you on. This was Jesus’ home town, the place where he had grown up, the neighbours before whose eyes he had grown and matured, people who knew him and his family, who were still living there. Surely they would get it? Surely they would be supportive of their home town boy?

Maybe they simply couldn’t get their heads around the fact that this man they had known from a boy was now saying and doing the strange things he was saying and doing. That these new and disturbing and confronting things were being said by their ex-neighbour may have been too much for them to handle. Such unsettling things from such a familiar face. What does it take to hear – to really hear – the convicting prophetic word of God from the mouth of a son, a brother, a friend, a neighbour?  That Jesus is rejected by his hometown foreshadows the ultimate rejection of his message by his people and his nation and most of those who would hear him. He was not popular, certainly not popular enough to make his condemnation by the authorities a close run thing. His death was the final, definitive rejection. But it wasn’t the first he had experienced.

Question to Consider
Why do you think his neighbours and family weren’t receptive to what Jesus had to say?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you that Jesus spoke your message regardless of the reception he got; that he was concerned enough with bringing your words of love and salvation regardless of the cost. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – A Sign You’re on the Right Track

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 13:57-58

“There is comfort, too, though of a dangerous variety, in Jesus’ own comment about the normal fate of prophets. Of course, just because people are offended by what you say, that doesn’t mean you are telling the truth, that you are a heaven-sent true prophet. It may simply mean that you’re talking a lot of nonsense. But equally, if the signs that God is at work are there elsewhere – as they were abundantly, of course, in Jesus’ case – then the fact of rejection, not least in one’s own home district, should never be taken as an indication one is off track, that God has withdrawn his blessing.

In fact, rejection can sometimes be a strange encouragement. Provided we understand such a moment with humility, it can become a further indication, albeit a dark and negative one, that God is truly at work. If new creation and new life are going forward, those who have invested heavily in the old creation, the old ways of life, are bound to be offended. But make sure, before you use this argument in your own favour, that the offence in question is the gospel itself, and not something about the messenger.”

N. T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone: Part One, pp.180-1.

Questions to Consider
How do we make sure any offence our message causes is from the message and not from us? How do we test the words of a proclaimed prophet to make sure the message is legitimate?

Prayer
Lord God, may you be at work in everything I say and do. Keep me close to you so I may hear your words and commands clearly and accurately, and carry them out faithfully, no matter the consequences. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Annoying the King

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 14:1

Matthew calls him Herod ‘the tetrarch’, which means ‘ruler of a fourth’ – that is, ruler of one fourth of his father Herod the Great’s kingdom. The sons of Herod the Great had all sucked up to Rome upon his death, hoping to be made his successor and, as his title suggests, Herod Antipas was not the winner. Matthew paints Herod Antipas in a rather unfavourable light – which wasn’t hard to do as in order to make up for his bad start with the Romans and rise up the ranks, he needed to keep his part of the kingdom quiescent and quiet. As a ruler he was not loved. And he had divorced his wife in order to marry Herodias, who had been married to his half-brother; it was John the Baptist’s public condemnation of this marriage that saw Herod have John imprisoned and executed.

John was not afraid to speak out against Herod and condemn him for the sinful improprieties he was committing. Herod was a weak ruler, only in power due to the choice the Romans had made about who they thought would be the best (i.e. most ruthless) ruler of Galilee and keep the population appropriately in line. John was not afraid to speak openly – and truthfully – to those in power, regardless of what the personal consequences to himself might end up being. Prophets are not comfortable people to have around. The best of them – those faithful to God’s call on them – will go anywhere required of them and say anything God wants them to say.

Questions to Consider
What examples do we have in our world today of people fearlessly speaking truth to religious/political/economic/social powers? What was the result for them?

Prayer
Father God, show us what to speak up against in the world today. Show us the people, places and situations that need light on them. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Something Bigger

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 14:2-5

While his condemnation of Herod’s marriage to Herodias was the reason given for John’s execution, we can perhaps see this as the final straw that broke the camel’s back, the last in a series of consistent actions rather than the first (and/or last) mistake made on the way. This was not a one off event for John. He had not been living a careful, quiet life that was sadly cut short by one solitary impolitic misstep right near the end. He was a prophet and he had been doing what prophets do: stirring things up, putting his finger on public touch points that people would have preferred been left alone, and saying and doing things that rankled and provoked those in power. He’d had a lifetime of practice at doing this and he was good at it.

John’s invective contained elements of the political and the religious. He gathered people around him in the Jordan desert, symbolising a new exodus. By offering water baptism to people he was pitting himself against the Temple: why to go to the priests and the Temple rituals when you can get what they offer right here? A new exodus and a new initiatory rite for the new, true people of God. Add to that the shaming of Israel’s sinful leaders and the surprise is actually that John lasted as long as he did. God had called him and he had responded, his prophetic voice ringing out over the desert, highlighting systemic injustice and sinful rulers and calling people back to God.

Questions to Consider
Where do we see actions like Herod’s against John happening in the world today? What can the followers of Jesus do about it?

Prayer
Sovereign Lord, help us fight injustice at home and abroad, wherever we see it on our streets or our screens. May your people (re)gain a reputation for courage and tenacity and solidarity in the face of injustice. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – The Prophetic Lives of the People of God

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 14:6-12

Done right, being a prophet will get you in trouble. You will annoy people. You will bring to light and mind things that the powers that be would rather were not noticed or talked about or pointed out. You will trail the field significantly in any “most popular person” competition. John and Jesus were like this. Their message, while offering hope to those longing for God to rescue and redeem his people and his world, stirred up powerful opposition. As the well-known adage goes, John and Jesus comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable – and the comfortable fought back.

Not everyone is called to be a prophet. That is a hard road, a God-given vocation. But as followers of Jesus all of us are called to live prophetic lives. We are called to live lives – kingdom lives – that mirror the determined faithfulness of the prophets and show the world the way of Jesus Christ: to comfort the forgotten and marginalised and oppressed and stand with them in solidarity against the forces and powers that seek to dehumanise people. To live and act in a way that exhibits kingdom justice and offers the hope of a more equitable world for everyone. To speak uncompromisingly against exploitation and oppression. Doing so faithfully and sacrificially might mean that simply by living as God calls us to, we will also face discontent and opposition that moves beyond the ridicule we sometimes face and beyond being ignored and dismissed as we so often are. Go back to the first few sentences of today’s reading: that could be – perhaps should be – us.

Questions to Consider
What is prophetic about the life you live? How are the afflicted comforted and the comfortable afflicted by you?

Prayer
Holy Lord, gift me greater courage and love. Make me more like your son in word and deed, for the sake of others and your world. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Global Week – Part 2

Readings for this week September 13 – 17
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – The Great Encapsulation

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 28:16

The words “the great commission” appear nowhere in Matthew’s gospel. The phrase is our invention, shorthand for the important ideas so succinctly expressed in these verses. But if we only focus on these few verses, if we continually pull them out of the gospel and only consider them in isolation, if we permanently detach them from the gospel and stick them on a shelf with a label attached saying “The Great Commission”, then we do great disservice to both Matthew’s intent and the meaning of these verses. If we only allow them a life of their own, and only refer to them out of context, then their power diminishes and they become a mere slogan, a catchphrase upon which the church hangs whatever mission strategy or evangelical tool is currently in vogue.

This is in no way to deny the power inherent in the words and the truth that they contain – in fact it is firmly to insist upon it. In this short passage is encapsulated so much of what Matthew has shown Jesus doing in the previous 28 chapters. The language is all Matthew’s and is taken from throughout his gospel as a summary of all that Jesus came to do and did: healing, teaching, freeing, the building of a renewed community of God’s people along with the command for all members of the new community to offer an invitation to all people to join. We call it the ‘Great Commission’ because it is so important – and so is the wider picture of the life, ministry and death of Jesus into which it fits, and the sharing of to which it points.

Questions to Consider
How is ‘the Great Commission a capstone to Matthew’s gospel? How is it a description of a disciple’s life?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help us keep our eyes peeled for your movement in the world and for the places where you need us to move, for the sake of a world that doesn’t acknowledge you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Doubts, Yes, But Not About This…

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 28:17

There is always something we can do; there is always some way we can contribute; there is always a way to be involved. In a Covid world, when borders are closed and countries are less accessible than ever, when reaching out to others far away (or even those next door) becomes a little more challenging, when the choice to shrug and turn away seems just that much easier, we need to remind ourselves that the God we serve is bigger than any barrier before us and greater than any circumstance tempting us, and guides us with a power greater than any that will oppose us. The Gospel call to love others and transform the world still matters and still needs to be our guide today too, whatever the circumstances.

When others turn away, we don’t. When others pull blinds and close their eyes, we choose not to. When others declare the necessity of only looking out for themselves, we push back and show what a life lived for others looks like. Though the world seems far away right now, and our own lockdown experience shows how quickly things can change closer to home, there is always something we can do to be a part of God’s plan for the world. We can pray: we can stay connected, get involved, be better informed and pray for God’s world and his people. We can give: we can find out what is needed and where and we can contribute to God’s work. And we can go: God’s world is still there and still needs his people to go out into it and join with those in need, in pain, in poverty, wherever they are. The call to follow is still ringing out today.

Questions to Consider
What is God calling you to today? Who is he calling you to reach out to?

Prayer
Lord God, give us the strength not to retreat from loving your world but to look for new ways to engage and share your love with others and support those in need. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Empowered for the Slow Burn

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 28:18

Make disciples. Baptise. Teach. These are the elements of what it means to be a follower of Jesus that Matthew highlights at the close of his gospel. At face value, this can seem rather dry and unexciting, perhaps a little lacking in the fervour that many people might be looking for in a life with Jesus. But following Jesus is a lifelong endeavour. Discipleship is a slow burn, kindling a flame and keeping it burning over a lifetime of following and growing and living. And Jesus has shown us – and now through his Spirit empowers us – how to do this, how to live a life of discipleship and how to assist others to do the same. His life is the model: his times alone with his Father; teaching others how to live; healing and mending; living in community with others – he was the Master, showing the disciples (and us) how to live.

Look back at the Sermon on the Mount. There we see the ethic of the Kingdom, the foundational, formational values embodied in the life and work of Jesus that he lived out and showed us in action – so that we might live them out too. Taking the gospel to the world involves proclamation, of this there is no doubt. But it also involves living out the gospel, being the light and salt Jesus talked about for the sake of the world. In Matthew’s gospel we see Jesus in action, via word, sign and deed, and we see him showing us how to live life following in his footsteps for the sake of the world he loves.

Questions to Consider
What rhythms do you think are important for a life-long follower of Jesus to have? Why? How have they helped you remain close to Jesus?

Prayer
Gracious God, teach me to love you well by staying close to you in my daily rhythms. May the patterns of my life feed my love for you, not distract me from it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Hello, My Name is: Baptised

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 28:19

A key component of the character of the early Christian community was baptism. Matthew has Jesus instructing the disciples to make disciples and makes baptising them a crucial part of the process; as recorded in Acts, at the end of his first sermon Peter calls on his audience to be baptised; and in many places in his letters Paul assumes his readers have all been baptised. And all of it took place ‘in the name of Jesus’, with Matthew going even further, putting the full Trinitarian formula on Jesus’ lips as he commands his disciples to incorporate baptism into the disciple-making, community-forming process. Along with the Lord’s Supper, baptism was a key identifying marker of the Christian community.

But unlike the Lord’s Supper, baptism was only enacted once for each believer. It was a one-time only event, a rite of initiation into the community, a ritual designed to show the baptisand’s transferral of allegiance from the world to Jesus, and their joining the new community of the followers of Christ. Our unity stems from the fact that through baptism we are all incorporated into Christ. We are baptised into the life and death of Christ: crucified with him, buried with him, but also raised with him – this is the marker of the community of Christ. Because we are one in Christ, we belong to each other. All social barriers are washed away in the waters of baptism and a new community, that through Christ transcends all human impediments, is forged. This is why baptism is such an important part of the disciple-making process.

Questions to Consider
Why is baptism a communal ritual? How does baptism change us?

Prayer
Loving Father, thank you for community, for others like me who love you and help me to love you better, bigger and deeper. Give us unity and show us how to love one another. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – A Life-Long Apprenticeship

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 28:20

We aren’t born knowing how to do terribly much. Initially, a lot comes by instinct as we slowly engage with the world around us, but much more comes over time as others – our parents and caregivers, wider family, eventually friends and colleagues – show us, both accidentally and intentionally, how to act, how to make things, how to do things; in short, how to live. We are apprentices, learning a trade, the trade of how to live and move and survive in the culture and world we find ourselves in. Following Jesus is no different. To be ‘born again’ isn’t to suddenly automatically know how to live the life of a Kingdom-dwelling disciple of Jesus. We need to be shown how to do that too. As Dallas Willard says:

“In summary, then, the disciple or apprentice of Jesus, as recognised by the New Testament, is one who has firmly decided to learn from him how to lead his or her life, whatever that may be, as Jesus himself would do it. And, as best they know how, they are making plans – taking the necessary steps, progressively arranging and rearranging their affairs – to do this. All of this will, in one way or another, happen within the special and unfailing community he has established on earth. And the apprentices then are, of course, perfectly positioned to learn how to do everything Jesus taught. That is the process envisaged in the Great Commission of Matt. 28:18-19.”

Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, pp.318-9.

Questions to Consider
How is your life an apprenticeship? What are you learning to do?

Prayer
Almighty God, teach me to be like Jesus. Teach me how to be compassionate and loving, how to give myself to others. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Global Week

Readings for this week September 6 – 10
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – Unity Within Reconciled Diversity

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Galatians 3:28

For several years now at South West Baptist Church we have been on a cross cultural journey of discovery and understanding, tangata whenua and manuhiri together, as a way of beginning to address and redress the history of our peoples’ interaction with each other as a nation and as a community, a way of signalling that we will listen to voices perhaps not heard or listened to before. While no one would call the history of Māori and Pākehā interaction in New Zealand anywhere near perfect – a vast understatement when applied to the worldwide history of European interaction with indigenous peoples – as a church we are committed to “being relevant, authentic and available to the communities and cultures in which our church resides in all that we do.”

As a church we are endeavouring to be welcoming to all the different ethnicities and cultures which make up our community, and also we aim to “endeavour to draw insight from the Māori cultural heritage that is unique to Aotearoa, New Zealand.” We’re not there yet; the journey is ongoing, our cultural understanding is growing, and so is our discovery of each other – of all of us – as beloved children of God. God spoke to humanity definitively through Jesus, who was the same as us but also different. God also continues to speak to us through each other, as we are also the same but different. But we recognise those differences a little more clearly now and are committed to understanding them and celebrating them together as different facets of our God-givenness.

Questions to Consider
What has the South West cross cultural journey meant to you? How has it changed you and your four key relationships (with God, self, each other and the world)?

Prayer
Lord God, continue to speak to us as a community of communities, a gathering of people committed to each other and to you. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Babel

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Genesis 11:1-9

Interpretations of this passage have often seen God’s scattering of the people and the giving of different languages to the new multitude of different peoples as a punishment, divine retribution for daring to compete with God. Because of the sin of pride and because they dared to try and meet God on his own level, God punished the peoples of the world with confusion and separation. While the story of the Tower of Babel is certainly not to be taken as a credible, accurate theory of linguistics (and everyone previously speaking the same language seems to directly contradict Genesis 10:5), neither does it necessarily have to have only negative connotations.

Another way to interpret the passage’s consequences is to see that cultural variety is a gift from God, something given to humanity by God. He rescued us from cultural homogeneity and sameness. He opened up avenues of cultural expressiveness and interaction that were not available to us before, not only in order to save us from stagnation and torpor, but also to expand the ways in which we could interact with and experience each other – and God. We can be shaped and influenced in a greater variety of ways, we can grow and learn and develop and be challenged to a greater degree because of the variety of different people – all made in God’s image – that we meet. And God can speak to us and relate to us through a myriad of cultures and languages and patterns of life, not just our own, not only the one(s) we have been raised in.

Question to Consider
How have you been shaped by cultures other than your own?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, open me up to those around me so that I might know them more, understand them better – and that they may know me too. Build unity through our diversity and our love of you. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – All Welcome, From Every Nation Saved

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 5:9

No particular cultural expression of God adequately expresses the entirety of who God is. He is too big for that. He is beyond us in ways that we are aware of and that we can guess, and also in ways that we know nothing about. But all cultures and peoples express something of God. He does not hold himself back from us. He is not absent from us, no matter who or where or when we are. He speaks to us – as groups and as individuals – through the cultures and societies we are part of and that we inhabit, and the ones around us.

But this is not to sanctify every aspect of every culture. While no culture is perfect, not even the Jewish culture into which Jesus came (we know he had a fair amount to say about ways in which his own culture had failed to speak truly of God and serve its people), every human culture is a channel through which God speaks to humanity and through which humanity can express itself back to God. It is not up to the followers of God to determine how God speaks and who he can speak to. It is up to the followers of God to listen when he speaks, wherever and however he speaks, seek the peoples and places he is speaking to and listen to what he has to say to them, and what he might say to us through them. God has so much he wants to say to his creation in order to love it, rescue it and guide it. Let’s open our ears wider in order to hear.

Question to Consider
How has God spoken to you through people, places and cultures that are vastly different to your own?

Prayer
Loving Lord, show yourself to me in ways and through people I don’t expect. Burst my horizons and expectations. Reveal more of yourself through the people around me and those far from me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Learning Through Others

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Roman 15:5-7

We can’t de-culture ourselves. No one is culture-free. For this reason we come to each other embedded in culture, society, our family, our language. We can’t escape it and we cannot expect others to do so at our request. So much of who we are, even as creations of God, is bound up with the cultures and societies and tribal ties that have shaped us and formed us. As obvious as this point is, it seems like many of us are only really beginning to understand this now – usually because those who have not been allowed to express themselves and find themselves in their own culture are now finally being allowed to. Perhaps those of us who never cared about this – perhaps because we assumed it was only ‘others’ who actually had a culture, not us – are finally starting to realise how we may have inadvertently contributed to this stifling of life and culture that others have experienced.

We see and find and learn about each other through the lenses of our cultures. We encounter God and each other through the various cultural expressions of faith and life that we inhabit. We can try and see past them to a certain extent, perhaps try and mitigate the more harmful effects of some of our cultures’ more unsavoury elements. But we are encultured people, relating to God and each other through these cultures. To deny this and to deny another’s culture is to deny one of the main ways in which we learn about each other and encounter God.

Questions to Consider
How was Jesus encultured? How might this shape our reception of him and what he did and said?

Prayer
Gracious God, thank you for speaking to us in ways that we can understand. May we listen to others as attentively as we do to you. Teach us through each other; reveal yourself through others. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – All Nations

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 7:9-10

This is where it ends. Matthew 28:19-20 commands us to go and make disciples of every nation. In passages like the one we read today, we see the ultimate destination that commands like this lead to, the place where people of every nation and tongue do meet together to offer praise to God. This is what it looks like when all people, from all places and all cultures and all walks of life, come together before God, in the presence of their Maker and with those whom they were made alongside, to live and worship together. All tribes, all peoples, all groups, all nations – no tribe missing, no people absent; everyone is here. All languages represented, all groups accounted for, everyone affirmed and welcomed into the presence of God.

We see the consummation of what the Great Commission calls us to in these passages where people from every nation and tribe and tongue worship and glorify the Lamb. We were sent to all nations – the whole world our mission field – to call people back to relationship with their Creator so that through the coming together of the most diverse display of people imaginable, people unified and redeemed, Christ would be glorified. God wants all people there, united together and praising the One who makes our redemption possible. It takes all of us there for that to happen the way God has always wanted it to – no one uninvited, no one left out, no one left behind.

Questions to Consider
What do you think of the picture painted in these verses? What is our part in bringing this about?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you for your grace and mercy to us all. Thank you that you want all of us with you, all of us together praising your name, all of us united in our love for you. May it one day be so. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Matthew 2:13 – 23

Readings for this week August 30 – September 3
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – Forced From Home

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 2:13

Jesus was a refugee. So far, this century especially, this aspect of Jesus’ story has taken on greater emphasis. Jesus was safely born, and representatives of the peoples of the world came to pay homage to him. But soon afterwards the holy family had to flee their home, under threat of death, escaping murderous soldiers sent to kill them and every other child in their village. The story of Jesus began with the type of persecution and displacement that so many millions of people today know all too well, having experienced it for themselves, even now still living within the aftermath of such destruction.

Jesus’ early life – his life with his parents – was not a life of immediate calm and domestic restfulness back home. They were displaced, persecuted, unwanted. Due to the threat against their child and the uncertainty of the fate of all of them as long as they stayed in Israel, they were forced to take refuge in a foreign land – perhaps living with other Jewish ex-patriots, but still living amidst different people and customs with a different language – until it was safe to return home. For this small family a persecuted life of deep uncertainty seemed to be in the offing. Fleeing for their lives, travelling to unknown parts where strangers awaited, what did these young parents make of the promises of God? Could they still be trusted? Was God still in control? Were the words of the angels uttered to them both about to be proved mistaken?

Question to Consider
What do you think it would have been like for Mary and Joseph, being forced to live in an unfamiliar, foreign land, afraid to return home?

Prayer
Almighty Father, comfort those who are afflicted, reassure those who are afraid, heal those who are wounded – and may you do this through us, your people, as we share the joy and peace that you bring. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Massacre of the Innocents

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 2:14-15

A refugee family fleeing Herod’s persecution and fleeing to safety in Egypt – we have seen how life began for Jesus. But there are two significant ways in which the experience of the young holy family is very different from that of the overwhelming majority of refugees in our world today. Joseph, Mary and Jesus got to go home. This is not the case for most of the millions upon millions of refugees forced from their homes and their regions and their nations today. They have not – or, more optimistically if not necessarily realistically, have not yet – returned home. It is doubtful that many of them will ever be able to, and if they do manage to, what awaits them is unknown.

And secondly, the holy family returned safely from exile, all of them alive and well. For many refugees today, the massacre of the innocents is a closer reflection of their reality: there is someone permanently missing from their family. Maybe many people. War, famine, disease, displacement – there are so many ways in which families find themselves bereaved and disfigured, gaping wounds where once family members were. Jesus got to grow up into his life and destiny; many, many others today coming from a similar place do not. So many of those families still hoping to one day return home know that, even if they ever manage to do so, they will not be returning home intact, complete, whole. There is someone missing.

Question to Consider
What do you think it is it like for those forced to live in an unfamiliar, foreign land, afraid or unable to return home?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, be with those – all those – who are far from a home they don’t know if they will ever see again. Be with those who mourn for those they have lost. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Whither Innocence?

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 2:16-18

In the second chapter of Matthew the name Jesus appears once in the first verse and then disappears. After that he is always referred to as ‘the child’. This highlights both the fragile humanity of Jesus, coming to us as a baby, living a full human life from beginning to end, infancy included, and the fact that Jesus is not in charge. He does not act, he is acted upon; others make decisions for him. And of course, calling him the child heightens the distinction between his fate here and the fate of all the other children killed by Herod’s soldiers, children whose parents were not warned in a dream and had no chance of finding safety.

It is often the children who suffer. We have always known this, and in the events occurring (again) in Afghanistan these last weeks we see yet another example of this truth beginning to unfold. When the powerful feel themselves threatened or mocked or side-lined, they will react in ways brutal and calamitous, with no thought for the consequences or for who is damaged in the process. We see this at both ends of Jesus’ life: innocent children butchered because of the danger posed by a tiny baby; an innocent man crucified because of his threat to the religious and political leaders. What does it mean today for us to stand beside the innocent and those who suffer? And what would it take for us to stand between the innocent and those who would seek to hurt them? What should that look like now?

Questions to Consider
What is your response to the “massacre of the innocents”? How is this part of the story relevant today?

Prayer
Merciful God, we know you feel our deepest pain and despair. But may we feel your pain and despair too. We need our hearts broken again for the things that you want challenged and put right. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Just a Little Baby

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 2:19-21

Right from the beginning Jesus was a threat. As a prophet travelling the countryside teaching and preaching to the masses, we can understand the challenge someone like Jesus would pose to the religious authorities in Jerusalem. Any talk of a messiah, like the Old Testament promise of the one to come and deliver God’s people from oppression and exile, would be anathema to those in power who wanted to stay there for their own benefit and glory. A coming king can only be bad news for a present king unwilling to swear allegiance to God. But the threat was there – and recognised as such – right from Jesus’ birth. Jesus – the baby/child Jesus – is a threat, right from the beginning.

How else to explain the massacre of all babies and infants in an entire village? Kings must come from somewhere; challengers to the throne must be faced down and wiped out as soon as they are known of. And such persecution is not confined to the beginning of the story either. Soon after the death of Jesus his followers will be persecuted and pursued and killed by the Roman empire as a danger to the peace and order the empire claims to have brought to the world. What Jesus started – and from his very start too – was threatening to a lot of people; basically anyone with a vested interest in the power structures of the time would see even a tiny baby as a potential threat.

Questions to Consider
How is “baby Jesus” a threat to those in power today? How do we, his followers, do the same? Why is this important?

Prayer
Holy God, make us more of a threat. As we offer your love to others and stand beside the unimportant and marginalised, make our love dangerous to those who would oppress, discriminate and kill. May our love be a dangerous love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Joseph’s Son

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 2:22-23

This is essentially the end of Joseph’s part in the story, as we have it before us. Apart from a brief mention in Luke’s gospel when a twelve-year-old Jesus goes missing in Jerusalem during Passover, he is not mentioned further in the story, only on a few occasions when Jesus is referred to in passing as ‘Joseph’s son.’ We know nothing about anything further in Joseph’s life. We do not know how long he lived or when he died or how he died. Whatever the manner of his exit from the story, the gospel writers and their sources did not seem to think it needed to be recorded. The story is Jesus’ story after all, not Joseph’s.

We do not know what Joseph thought of the life he saw Jesus living as he grew up. He had been told that his son would save his people from their sins. What did that mean? All those angelic visitations that he and Mary had received around the time of Jesus’ birth: were they just dreams? Were the promises given to them going to lead anywhere, or had they just been dreams? Joseph knew all about parental dreams for his children, more so than most. But it appears he did not live long enough to see any of them come to fruition. What we as readers of the gospel see, however, is an honest, upright man who was obedient to the word of God he received, even when it came in the strange form of angelic dream encounters, who protected his family and who is remembered ever since as the earthly father of ‘Joseph’s son.’

Questions to Consider
What dreams has God given you that you still wait to see happen? What keeps you holding to the promises of God when they seem so far away?

Prayer
Lord God, you see further than we do and know things deeper than we can. Deepen my trust in you and your good promises, even when I cannot see how they can become real. You are greater than my doubt. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Matthew 14:13-21

Readings for this week August 23 – 27
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – To Be Alone with His Grief…

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 14:13

I think this is one time when Jesus really did want to get away. Throughout the gospels there are various times when Jesus goes off by himself, often up a mountainside, for some time alone, a chance to take a breath, be by himself, be with his Father and recharge and recentre. Jesus had a ‘devotional life’ – he walked in relationship with his God, and he would have had his own rhythms and practices that were important for him in order to maintain this relationship. Some time alone, away from the pressing crowd, the anxious disciples, the political pressures, would have been welcome and necessary. But this time I think it’s different. I think Jesus is deeply upset by the murder of his cousin John (Matthew 14:1-12) and I think he wants to be off by himself for a while, to process what has happened, to come to grips with his emotions – and to grieve.

But the crowd won’t let him. They push, they intrude, they insist. Oblivious to any need Jesus might have, they are only aware of their own. And Jesus doesn’t mind. Rather than rebuking their imposition he looks to take care of their needs and their hurts. He feels compassion for them and begins to heal the sick and injured among them, looking to assuage their griefs rather than use his own as an excuse to leave. Even in the midst of his own pain, Jesus was still putting the needs of others above his own, looking to heal and serve others who needed it. 

Questions to Consider
What is your response when people intrude on your plans? How has this intrusion ever been turned into an opportunity for God to move?

Prayer
Almighty Father, give me patience and give me the wisdom to see a wider picture. May I be interruptable for the sake of your kingdom. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – He Was Moved

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 14:14

The catalyst for one of the most famous miracles Jesus performed was something very simple, something fairly ordinary and unassuming, something that all of us are capable of doing. What led to the moment when a few loaves and fishes were miraculously multiplied to feed a multitude of hungry people, might be seen by many as simple surges of oxytocin and other chemicals in Jesus’ system, but can be better described as ‘compassion’. Jesus saw that people were tired, hungry and a little bit lost about what to do, in need of healing, and so he had compassion on them. That’s where it started. Jesus looked around him at the people who had come to see him and was moved by their situation – moved to action.

And he spurred others to compassion too, encouraging the disciples to do something to feed the hungry. “See what you can do; you give them something to eat.” From compassion in our Saviour’s breast to the disciples handing out the food to the crowd, the heart of God models for us the simple, practical love that we are called to offer to all around us, not because we necessarily have all the perfect solutions to every problem (we don’t), but because we serve a God who can transform hard situations into places of grace, and who wants to use as channels of that grace. But we must let ourselves be moved as Jesus was moved; we must turn our eyes towards the world and let ourselves to be touched by what we see.

Questions to Consider
What does compassion look like? Why must it be more than just a warm fuzzy feeling?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, move us when we would rather not move. Shake us when we try to remain unshaken. Stir us up for the things that stir your heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Not My Problem…

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 14:15-18

It’s their own fault, surely? They chose to listen to Jesus, they chose to follow him around, they stayed out late in a deserted, barren place without food when they didn’t have to. Their hunger is their fault and therefore their problem, isn’t it? Their bad planning and inadequate preparation is what has got them into this mess; they should sort it out themselves. And if Jesus had actually followed the disciples’ advice, and encouraged the people to go home at an appropriate time, then the crowd wouldn’t be tired and hungry – or would at least be tired and hungry at home – and Jesus wouldn’t find himself in this predicament of having to do something about it. Failure on many levels here, you might think.

Well, two things: Firstly, Jesus shows no interest in working out who might be at fault for this situation or how best for people to make recompense for the trouble they’ve caused. People are hungry and tired and need feeding; what can be done about it and how can he help? He sees a need and searches for a solution, even if it costs him something in the process. Telling the disciples to feed the crowd involved them in the problem-solving too – they needed to see the hungry crowd as more than just a problem. Because, secondly, there was an opportunity here for people to catch a remarkable glimpse of the kingdom, for God’s power to manifest itself, and for people to see Jesus and be blessed by him up close – something that a perfectly planned and executed day out might never have seen happen.

Questions to Consider
How has God involved you in ‘problem-solving’ in your neighbourhood, city, nation, world? How could you be involved?

Prayer
Sovereign Lord, help me see what needs solving and being worked at, not issues and people to avoid. Help me see possibility like you do. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Being Involved, Working Together

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 14:19-20

Wherever the loaves and fishes came from (Matthew has them at the disciples’ fingertips; John places them in the lunch bag of a small boy) they were nowhere near enough to feed such a large crowd, especially one as tired and worn out and hungry as the people here were. It was an act of ridiculous optimism to even bring them before Jesus. Better surely to simply say, “We haven’t got anything,” rather than offer this tiny amount of food? Because that would have been something to see: Jesus conjuring an entire banquet of food for thousands of people out of nothing, the only thing in his hands the thin air he spun the food from. That would amaze the disciples, get the crowd talking, get Jesus’ name spread even further.

But he doesn’t. In his hands, rather than thin air, there are the loaves and fishes offered to him. He takes what they have and uses it, not because he can’t do it the other way (no doubt we all think he could), but because he chooses not to. Instead, he uses what people have offered him in the service of something bigger. However inadequate the resources, they are still a fine instrument for the son of God’s use. However inexperienced the disciples, they were still worthy co-workers with Jesus upon that hillside. He may have blessed the bread and broken it, but it was the disciples who passed it out to the crowd. Even in this small way, Jesus would rather partner with us, utilising our humbly offered gifts, than do it completely on his own.

Questions to Consider
Why does Jesus prefer to invite us to partner in his work? Why is it better for us to be involved?

Prayer
Lord God, thank you for inviting us to be a part of your restoring, redemptive work. However uncertain we may feel, give us the confidence to trust in you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – The Lord of Physical Need Too

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 14:21

Before they set off with their kidnapped cargoes, many slave ships would often baptise the captured slaves (no more than a cupful of water poured over the head accompanied by a brief incantation), in order to ensure that, regardless of what might happen to them on the voyage, their souls (until recently not acknowledged by their captors even to exist, these ‘lower races’ not even being human, never mind in any way spiritual, beings) were safe with God. However abused and debased their bodies and lives may be by God’s people, at least their souls would end up safe in heaven. As vile, degrading and dehumanising as this attitude was, it was part of an (erroneous) influential interpretive system that believed the physical, material world – our bodies included – was secondary to the spiritual, immortal soul that survived into eternity to be with God.

A belief like this (‘when we die our souls go to heaven to be with Jesus’) will naturally denigrate the physical body and elevate the spiritual – something that Jesus himself did not ever do. He knew we were embodied beings, created and made for a physical world. He knew that our physical bodies were an important component of who we are; that our physical needs were important too. He healed people. He fed people. He alleviated their hunger and thirst because he is the Lord of physical need just as much as that of spiritual need. He cares about the hungry and he does something about it. Leaving people to suffer in their physical predicament while offering to alleviate their spiritual pain isn’t his way. We are holistic beings; our love must address itself to the entire person and circumstance.

Question to Consider
What are the consequences of only addressing people’s spiritual needs?

Prayer
Loving Lord, help us see the whole person, the entire circumstance. Help us not rush to judgement or come to poor judgements, but love well, love wisely, and love unconditionally. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)