Isaiah 58:1-14; Matthew 25:31-46
How do we respond to the suffering in the world around us? Throughout scripture, and especially in the Prophets and teachings of Jesus, we see God reaching through and beyond the lifestyles and concerns and rhythms of the rich and comfortable into the intimate circumstances of the poor, the oppressed, the excluded. Are we willing to follow God into relationship with our neighbors?
While the story of Les Miserables is set against the background of the French Revolution, the musical is primarily a story of love and redemption contrasted with legalism. Our main characters are Jean Valjean (the convict) and his adversary Javert (the inspector) Javert demonstrates fierce and blind dedication to the letter of the law and to the institution of the state. Jean Valjean served 19 years hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s children, but then after his release was marked and rejected by society. In desperation Valjean steals from a Bishop who housed and fed him in an act of charity. Brought back by the police with the story that he had been given the silver table service, Valjean then receives mercy from the Bishop who not only confirms the false story but gives even more silver, stating: “I have bought your soul for God.”
Valjean goes the rest of his life seeking to fulfill the calling of this mercy and grace. He shows it first to Fantine, then to her daughter Cossette, to a man mistakenly arrested, to Marius, and ultimately to Javert himself. In each of these instances he risks his own life, safety or freedom in an effort to extend the mercy and justice he has received.
God calls for us to offer charity to those in need, but not to stop there. We are called to recreate the economic and social systems of our world so that ALL people have the best chance possible to flourish and thrive, and so that when people stumble and fall they have the best possible opportunity for restoration, transformation and a redeemed life.
Paul highlights God’s desire when stating, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. That proves God’s love for us.” (Romans 5:8) The idea here is that God helps those who cannot help themselves (contrary to the popular saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” Which originates instead with Sophoclese and Euripides.) Scripture’s witness is that God enters in to redeem us precisely when we cannot help ourselves, and then God calls (commands!) us to structure our communities likewise. The Sabbath is designed to give all of creation regular days of rest, and the Jubilee eliminates both generational poverty and generational accumulation of vast wealth by restoring to each tribe their property and resources every 50 years, regardless of what choices, circumstances or failures led to them losing it in the first place.
God is continually calling the children of Abraham to be “restorers of streets to live in.” We are called to be people who renew and restore the world around us as signs of God’s kingdom, and to restructure our relationships and social interactions so as to open up possibilities for others. As followers of Jesus we are called, and then empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit, to join in God’s work of creating the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. God’s upside-down kingdom where all live fully and in harmony.
Let us ask one another, and our neighbors, how we might grow toward this vision of beloved community that Jesus dreamed.
Hidden Figures Screening Night This Wednesday, July 19, 6:30 pm #SpiritualityOfStageAndScreen Worship Series
Join us in the Parlor at Central on Wednesday, July 19th @ 6:30 pm for a screening of Hidden Figures.
We will watch the film and then have some discussion before we adjourn. This film is the inspiration for worship and sermon on Sunday, July 23rd - "Hidden Figures - Everyone Has A Contribution to Make"
SNACKS: Popcorn, Candy & Cold Drinks
DINNER: For those who won't have had dinner we will order pizza and have salad and tea available. Or you can bring your own.
LOCATION: Central Christian Church Parlor - 4711 Westside Drive, Dallas, TX 75209.
QUESTIONS: Call or text Ken's cell - 214-288-1663.
MORE ABOUT THE WORSHIP THEME: Hidden Figures: “Everyone has a contribution to make.”
Often the best leaders and problem solvers are those who get overlooked. God chooses people not based upon human judgement criteria, but based upon how God ca work in and through a person’s live to further the work of the kingdom. In this film, those with the solutions are overlooked because they are African-American women, and thus assumed to not be qualified or even able to address the needs at hand. Who around you is being overlooked that God wants to use?
If you're available, you can also join us Wednesday morning @ 10 am for Bible Study inspired by this theme.
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The full upcoming screening series on Wednesdays @ 6:30 pm:
Our view of reality is limited - past, present and also future. This means that even our dreams probably lack significant elements that we simply can't see. We are typically at the center of our own story, but not at the center of God's story. Pure dreams compel us forward, but into a future that will unfold beyond what we can imagine.
We often have dreams for our lives that get side tracked by our own choices or by the circumstances that unfold around us. The result may be that we assume our dreams are lost. It may well be that things will come full circle and the dream will be realized, just not along the path we’d imagined in the beginning.
In this story of Joseph we hear his dreams and see how he responds to them by sharing unwisely and braggadociosly with his brothers, who are also objects of the dreams. They try to circumvent the unfolding future and prevent what Joseph predicts. A long and circuitous route ensues, which eventually leads Joseph to exactly the place he’d imagined he would be. Is that the only way he could have arrived at the destination of his life? Or was it rather that God was planning to work this blessing through Joseph, and willing to accommodate a variety of paths?
There are certainly things that appear to bring a complete end to our dreams. When we dream a bright future for a child who then dies, then it seems the dream has died too. And yet even then families describe that while their own child did not live into the dream, their legacy may extend the dream even beyond what had been imagined. Does this eliminate or negate the grief of loss? Certainly not. It can soften and transform it into a new kind of tender hope.
Christian writer and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada describes how as a girl she dreamed of impacting the world for Christ. Following her diving accident that left her a quadriplegic she began to have opportunities for public speaking, eventually ending up on the Johnny Carson Show. She would later talk about how God used her injury to open doors and give her a much wider audience than she could imagine having otherwise.
People have different understandings of how actively involved God may be in orchestrating the events of our lives. There seems little doubt that God can and will work in the midst of any circumstances to unfold redemption and transformation if we are open to it. As you look back on your life and the dreams you’ve had, consider how God has been, is now, and may yet be at work to fulfill dreams, bring glory to God, and bring about healing, salvation, and God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.