Reflection by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 28 June 2020.
• First Reading: Genesis 22: 1-14 (The offering of Isaac)
• Psalm: Psalm 13 (I have put my trust in Your mercy; and my heart is joyful because of Your saving help)
• Epistle: Romans 6: 12-23 (The wages of sin in death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord)
• Gospel: Matthew 10: 40-42 (Whoever welcomes you welcomes Me and whoever welcomes Me welcomes the One who sent Me)
There is something deeply confusing about the times we are in. It is not just that the arguments for and against public policies and actions are intense but also that they are emotional.
It is almost more important to undermine the person making the counter argument than to carry the argument with better information and with a better understanding and application of that information.
Instead of clarity there is confusion, and instead of vision there is fog.
But when we find that this can also apply to our own lives and our thoughts and actions as we confront our own challenges and misgivings.
It must have been there when Abraham was confronted with the demand to sacrifice Isaac, his only son and indeed the son specifically promised by God.
Other cults had the practice of human sacrifice, which some of the later kings of Israel imitated, (eg 2 Kings 16: 3) but Abraham was already living in fellowship with God and had trusted Him for his son. Now here was a crisis of faith, of obedience and fellowship and trust.
The Book of Genesis does not say how Abraham felt, only that he obeyed, even when pressed by Isaac on the nature of the sacrifice to come.
What we are told is that for all his misgivings and doubts, Abraham was willing to follow God’s demand, and would trust His promise above all else. Abraham’s personal faith in and commitment to God were still alive and active, and this was the kind of fellowship that God honoured and regarded as righteousness before Him.
St Paul draws us to a similar lesson in his letter to the Christians in Rome. The church was living in a highly multicultural society in which virtually all cults were tolerated provided that they did not undermine the Emperor cult.
If any cult or faith community did then they could well be in danger. But there were other dangers short of being forced to offer incense to the Emperor.
As a multicultural city there were many rites of worship and many guilds associated with them. To trade may demand membership of a guild and to take part in its rites.
More than that morality would be whatever passed for it in the street outside. Honesty in all contracts, faithfulness in all relationships, restraint from abuse or from twisting or even nuancing the truth would all extract a toll from a conscientious Christian believer, who would have to find a way through all these hazards day by day.
Sounds familiar? Our own age continues to ask Pilate’s question, ‘What is truth?’ or perhaps, ‘How do we measure it?’ ‘What does it mean in real time?’ and ‘If my truth is my truth and your truth is your truth, then does it, indeed can it exist anyway?’
The moral, cultural, social and political confusion of our own day takes us right back to St Paul.
But then he says more, for he urgently warns them against letting go and allowing sin to overrule their values and sense of truth. It must not overwhelm their faith with the demands of self in all its respects.
They were all bought with the blood of Jesus Christ and this was His seal over them – His mark of ownership of their hearts and lives and His mark of His own total commitment to them in turn.
They were members of His city, indeed members of His body. Their lives were given strength by His blood, and if it was given while they were sinners, then how much more would it be for them in His resurrection and in their regeneration?
The people of Jesus Christ were living under a regime of grace in which God was meeting them day by day as they trusted in Him.
While others may live condemned by legalism and by their failure to live within the minutest demands of that legalism, the disciples of Jesus were to be animated, and given new breath by the Holy Spirit of Jesus.
And so Jesus Himself reassured them that He was present wherever they went. As they publicly owned their faith, then others would be able to respond to that message.
Even a cup of cold water given to one known to belong to Jesus would be honoured.
Whatever trials and misgivings that the disciples of Jesus were going through, others had faced the same kind of troubles. Even if they hesitated or stumbled, renewal and regeneration was a daily reality.
When others mocked, abused, insulted or humiliated them, then they had done the same to Jesus. They were just doing the same thing again, but to Jesus’ personal representative before them.
What was done to them, He would feel. But when they were fed, watered, sheltered, clothed and protected – then that offering also would be acknowledged in the presence of God.
It is a new kind of reality amid the fog of unbelief and distortion.