I love the Isaiah passage and the remedy for those who are fearful. If only we would look in the mirror with the same words for ourselves when we become the fearful people. But the reality is that in most places I look, where Church is to be found, what I see are platitudes and reasoned arguments, good ideas and the like. Rarely do I find people pointing to God but rather pointing to man. So here's the first challenge (and a promise of being strengthened and strengthening for others too) for today: When faced with trials and troubles - look first to God and confess Him with your mouth, heart and soul.
James add to the command to say, ‘Be strong, do not fear!' by telling us that we should also do something too. But the first step is to recognise, and welcome God, into all the situations before us, the second is do do more than just bless them! This is the second challenge then: When you see a problem, be part of the solution - do not pass by!
The second part of James resonates with an experience I had as a curate when we held a service where the 'best' seats were reserved for the dignitaries whilst the people who regularly occupied them were ushered towards the rear of the church building! Church so regularly sucks up, and pays homage, to the people with the gold chains of office and the people with influence, money, power and the like and God would like to pass on a message: STOP IT!
Our local MP is often found at services in one of our churches and he is usually found sitting somewhere in the middle next to an ordinary person - which I respect and applaud. So here's challenge number three today: Treat ALL people as equal - respect the beggar on the street as much as Church scrapes and bows to the rich and powerful. This is the Christian way.
The Gospel gives us the potential for so many things, but today (your 'lucky' day) I am going to focus on but one thing. Jesus came to reach the 'faithful' (who of course were generally being pretty unfaithful - just like the Church today I reckons) and so when a woman who would have been abused by some for being a 'dog' (for Gentiles, that's anyone who wasn't a Jew, were all lumped under that rude label) comes and begs for something Jesus tell them that the food is for the children (meaning the Jews). But she pleads her case by saying that she's happy to have the scraps that are left after the children have eaten. 'I'm not looking to take what is rightfully theirs,' she says, 'But let me have what the leftovers!'
Some people use this passage to paint Jesus in a bad light - 'Look, here's someone who won't show mercy to another because they are a different faith,' they cry. But not so, Jesus is testing the woman and teaching the people around her and making reality the words of James before they even came to be. So our last lesson is this: Regardless of colour, race, creed - always be prepared to engage and to meet the need (where you can) of the person/s before you (after all 1 John tells us that they are the image of the invisible God made visible so how can we but love them?).
As I write this I am in the middle of a field wearing army uniform and eating some of my daily rations. I have been fed by my Quartermaster. Today, wherever you are, God has also sought to feed, care and protect you - take the time to hear his voice.
ps - no pictures or music this week - I had to drive for ten minutes just to get a signal to upload this. :-)
Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.’
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’, also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?
Can faith save you?
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?
So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go - the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’