The Collect for today sums this up admirably for us:
God of truth,
help us to keep your law of love and to walk in ways of wisdom,
that we may find true life in Jesus Christ your Son. Amen.
Today is also Poverty Sunday - a day to think of those who cannot afford the very basics of life and an opportunity to celebrate, and commit to, the work of the Church Urban Fund.
This week I was challenged by a woman who, speaking about poverty, applauded the benefits we offered and berated 'the poor' for making it look like they needed food banks and 'other handouts' protesting that what they needed was to learn to budget and to spend what they had on the basics rather than the luxuries that came first! I was challenged because I wanted to throw the radio across the room and shout at the foolish words being spoken!
Today's Bible readings begin with Hagar's expulsion from Sarah's presence - the beginning of the Arab nation as Ishmael receives God's protection and provision in the wilderness. Regardless of who we are or how we came into this world - God's hand and provision is before us (sometimes it's called food bank!).
We are also told that we are dead to sin - the power of it is broken by Jesus' resurrection - and we, being dead, having been crucified with Him as heirs of His gift of life, are no longer subject to it. So why do we trouble so much with sin when we are called to focus on living like the Christ? We should whistle and stick our fingers into our ears when sin comes with its persuasive works, concentrating on living in God commandments and honouring Jesus by emulating Him.
But of Course that's not an easy option because it ticks off friends and family!
If I had a pound for every person for whom becoming Christian has caused tensions and even separation as they have acknowledged Jesus and sought to 'put off sin' and instead 'clothe themselves with righteousness'. And that's what our Gospel says will happen - our love will challenge and bring conflict and rejection and ridicule and all that stuff that makes us wonder whether we should give it up to please others. But the person who is ultimately pleased by this is not the family member nor the friend nor the people around us but the accuser, satan, who although we try to ignore these days because of the fear it makes us sound weird really does exist!
We live to please God and to serve others as Jesus, the Christ, came to be a servant of all. We bless ALL people and we seek to rescue the poor, heal the sick, setting free those who are captive (not just prison but addiction, debt, unemployment and all the other ills before us) - bringing them life and an introduction to God and His love through us, His people.
We ask ourselves who we need to be praying for.
We ask ourselves who it is that we need to be writing to or telephoning just so they know they're thought of.
We ask who we should be visiting, or inviting to our homes, to embrace them as God, through Jesus, embraced us.
We pray that others might think the same and find us to be the focus of their thinking and prayer.
Please pray for those who live in poverty (financial, spiritual, physical and mental) and give thanks for the work of the food banks, the Church Urban Fund, Christians Against Poverty and all the agencies that seek to set people free from poverty, oppression and fear.
The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’ The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named after you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, ‘Do not let me look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.’ Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.
God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?
By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
we thank you for nourishing us with these heavenly gifts:
may our communion strengthen us in faith,
build us up in hope, and make us grow in love;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.