Worshipping–What Needs to Be Said: a Reflection on Psalm 62:5-12, Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Mark 1:14-2
We belong completely to God. That statement flips the balance of power. God is creator and sovereign. We are creature and vassal. How we worship is greatly informed by having a correct understanding of the “power” relationship with God. The worship encounter focuses us on what matters most: we are loved by God, can be best neighbors, and live fully in the now, ready for the second coming of Jesus. And we must listen for that story line.
In data collected from over 20,000 Christians in 139 countries between the ages of 15 and 88, The Obstacles to Growth Survey found that, on average, more than 4 in 10 Christians say they “often” or “always” rush from task to task. About 6 in 10 Christians say that it’s “often” or “always” true that “the busyness of life gets in the way of developing my relationship with God.” By profession, pastors were most likely to say they rush from task to task (54 percent), which adversely affects their relationship with God (65 percent). “It’s tragic and ironic: the very people who could best help us escape the bondage of busyness are themselves in chains,” said Dr. Michael Zigarelli, who conducted the study at the Charleston Southern University School of Business.
We’re caught in the “busyness” cycle, because our tendency as humans is to place a priority on worldly matters, like jobs, wealth, family, and leisure. Whether we like it or not, they make claims on our lives. Listening to God will slow us down. Our lectionary readings teach us to live with only one claim on our lives: our fundamental vocation is defined by God’s claim on us, not worldly claims. Psalm 62:5-12, Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Mark 1:14-20, and 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 present two questions for us to consider: is the cause of Christ your utmost concern and do you affirm the tension of personal and social evangelism, proclamation and justice?
On this Third Sunday After The Epiphany, we affirm that we know who we are, because we know to whom we belong. We recognize that God is Creator and we are creation. Mark Labberton, the author of The Dangerous Act of Worship, reminds us that our fundamental vocation is defined by God’s claim on us, not worldly claims. Labberton writes, “All human power is derived from the God who speaks. Any word on our tongues is created, and ultimately given its boundary, by the Word of God. We are only actors in the world—good, bad or indifferent—because God spoke creation into existence and began its redemption through the Living Word, Jesus Christ. No human word exists outside of this Word. Life and worship is a response to this Word.” Worship brings us face to face with the reality that we are not independent from God. Labberton continues, “Forgetting or denying God is profoundly destructive to knowing ourselves and each other.” Our fundamental vocation is defined by God’s claim on us, not worldly claims.
Let’s address the questions that our lectionary readings beg us to answer. First, is the cause of Christ your utmost concern? Although the Psalm and Jonah texts do not use the words Jesus or Christ, and the text in 1 Corinthians only infers the name of God, all the texts point us to God. Psalm 62:7 reads, “On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Jonah 3:1 reads “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’” Mark 1:17 reads, “And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’” And 1 Corinthians 7:29 reads, “I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.” Rest in God, do what God says, follow Jesus where he goes. Second, do you affirm, yes, and even function well in the tension of personal and social evangelism, proclamation and justice? Psalm 62:9ab-10 reads, “Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion…Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” Jonah 3:10 reads, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring about upon them; and he did not do it.” Mark 1:14-15 reads, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’” And 1 Corinthians 7:31b reads, “For the present form of this world is passing away.” Being the best neighbors is not easy in that we must remain in the tension of the worldly matters that do matter, but not lose our voice and actions of good news and justice.
We do not know when Jesus will return. But, God has given us hope so that our words and actions of good news bring salvation. Salvation turns injustice to justice, enabling people to see the good news of Jesus. Richard B. Hays, Professor of New Testament at The Divinity School, Duke University writes, “Paul expects the return of the Lord and the judgment of the world within the very near future… That is why Christians should live as if the end were at hand, not investing themselves inappropriately in issues and affairs that belong to the old age.”
Radical devotion to God embraces the shortness of time before the Second Coming and the greatness of hope God has given us. Faith is not a set of beliefs. An effective faith in Jesus Christ is one which is a response to, not focus on the cause of God’s call. The gospel, preached, demands a decision. Listen to God. I’ve now said the things that need to be said. Will you respond as best neighbors?
This illustration was submitted by Van Morris from Mount Washington, Kentucky. The source of his submission was “Survey: Christians Worldwide Too Busy For God,” as found on http://www.christianpost.com
Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 124.
Some of my thinking in this paragraph has been shaped by Ruthanna B. Hooke and Clyde Fant in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 1, 278-283.
Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1997), 127.