On Sunday February 2nd our communion service was led by our minister Trevor Dixon and worship began as we sang, ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing’. Trevor led responsive opening prayers before we sang ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven.’ The first reading was from Micah 6v1-8, followed by Psalm 15 and I Corinthians 1v18-31. We then sang, ‘Blest are the pure in heart’ before Matthew 5v1-12, the beatitudes was read.
Trevor began his sermon by referring to the fact that it was Candlemass, which marked the end of the Christmas season, 40 days after the birth of Jesus when Mary and Joseph went to the temple to be cleansed. It was also the time for candles for the coming year to be blessed. After the birth of a girl the parents needed 50 days before they could come for cleansing. Candlemass was also midway between the winter and spring solstice. Following the birth of a child an offering had to be made to the temple; the poor gave a pair of turtle doves or 2 young pigeons, as Mary and Joseph did.
Micah asked the question about what the Lord required us to do. The Lord did not expect them to sacrifice bullocks, which is clear to us today, but was not clear in Micah’s time or in the time of Christ, when there were sacrificial offerings in the temple. Other nations even sacrificed humans to appease their gods. Micah was challenging the society of his time, by saying that it was no good expecting to get right with God only with sacrifices. There was a deeply ingrained belief that in order to win their gods or God’s favour they needed to offer them costly gifts. Micah in the prophetic tradition questioned their trying to win God’s approval by sacrifices. They should question how far they should shape their hopes and minds to be like God; that is the kind of offering God seeks. Prophets were seen as an irritant, posing and awkward and dangerous threat as they challenged society’s norms.
Paul in the 1 Corinthians was saying almost the same thing; the folly of the cross was wiser than human wisdom. We agree when we sing, ‘In the cross of Christ I glory’ or ‘when I survey the wondrous cross.’ Do we really accept this? Do we really read the message of the beatitudes and seek to be poor in spirit, humble, gentle and merciful? Our culture depends on earthly wisdom; we have to compete, sell ourselves, make hard decisions led by market forces; heaven helps those who help themselves!
Micah challenges us as much today as he did in his day; what changes are required in the way we live to live as God calls us to. Firstly we are to act justly, that is do right by others, especially the weak and the poor. Secondly we need to accept that by being human means we are to show mercy and loyalty, caring a lot about what happens to others. Thirdly we are to walk humbly with our God.
Paul reminds us that the cross is more powerful than self-interest. Jesus turns the values of the world upside down and that concept is central to our faith. How far is it really possible to live out our faith in the real world? It is far from easy! If we create God in our own image and bring costly gifts to buy God; that is no option. God is not created in our image but we are created in the image of God to reflect God in our lives. Being on the side of Christ we face humility and poverty and are challenged by what we have never done.
How can we possibly aim to follow the beatitudes? Who can possibly live in that way? The ways of the world threaten the ways of God. Some became hermits or joined closed orders to escape from the world. That is not the way of Micah, Paul or Jesus. We have to face up to living as citizens of both worlds and challenge those values as God’s people. There are statues of martyrs of our time outside Westminster Abbey; Dietrich Bonheoffer; Martin Luther King; Arch Bishop Oscar Romero; a 31 year old woman from Pakistan and countless more who have stood for justice. Those people challenged our faith in the absolute sense in losing their lives in their stance for justice. On 30th April 1989 Ken Mackintosh, a Methodist minister was shot dead in Newcastle. On 24th December 2012 Alan Greaves an organist on the way to Midnight Mass was beaten to death. We thank God that we are not likely to face martyrdom, but we are faced with difficult choices between good and evil, right and wrong; often the choice is between 2 shades of grey.
We are to offer ourselves in God’s service not give substitute offerings. The Lord has told us what is good; to do what is just, to show constant love and to live in humble fellowship with our God. Those precepts are all worth pursuing in the strength of our Lord. We sang ‘Blest are the pure in heart’ before the intercessions and then ‘I hunger, I thirst’ in preparation for our communion service. Our worship concluded as we sang, ‘Sent by the Lord I am’.