What God wants of us

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Today was our last Communion service of the term. We were reflecting on what God calls us to be, as we look ahead to our very different future. Here’s the reading, from the prophet Micah:

With what shall I come before the Lord,

    and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,

    with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,

    with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,

    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

    and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

    and to walk humbly with your God?

I wonder what new technological skills you’ve been learning during this time? Maybe how to position the camera for a Zoom meeting so it doesn’t look straight up your nose… Maybe the important ability to mute and unmute yourself… That could be a useful skill for some of us to learn away from the computer…

I discovered something the other day about how to post on platforms like Facebook. Social media experts talk about a ‘call to action’. The most effective messages from organisations aren’t just something to read – they should encourage the reader to do something: to sign up for a newsletter, or make a purchase, or engage in some other way.

I wonder if that is what God’s messages to us are like? The church’s messages can be. I remember being encouraged to preach sermons which led up to a call to action… And I suspect that what followed was often a list of religious ‘oughts’… pray more, read the bible, share your faith more, join some campaign…

The passage from the prophet Micah offers a different approach. Micah has been expressing God’s anger and disappointment with his people. God has rescued them and led them through the desert and given them a homeland, but their response has been ingratitude and running after other gods.

What does God want them to do instead? Should they go back to their religious oughts – worship, sacrifice, giving up the things they most love to God to make up for their sin.

There’s something about that which reminds me of what we were talking about a couple of weeks ago. We can spend our lives trying to make up for things we feel we have done wrong, and being driven on by an inescapable sense of our own shortcomings.

Micah suggests another response: He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

I think perhaps this is less of a call to action, and more of an invitation to an attitude. All of our doings are to be marked by justice. We are to love kindness – to delight in being kind. And we are to live lives marked by humility and faithfulness.

It’s not about making great religious gestures, or dramatic self-sacrificial actions, which may harm ourselves and those we love. That can certainly be quite tempting – appealing to our heroic sense of ourselves, or trying to make up for our sense of not being good enough.

But we don’t have to do that – we are loved as we are. The response God asks us for is less about doing and more about being. When I think of that reading what comes to mind is not a list of actions, but a type of person – just, kind, humble, Godly.

We’ve been making plans for next term as a Chaplaincy, and we have quite an intense timetable for the first few weeks, offering ways for new students to meet us in person and online – dog walking, virtual cafes, picnics, Cathedral visits… It’s going to be full on. But what will be most important for our team won’t be what we do, but who we are. The way we talk with students. The kindness we show. The care for the most vulnerable ones. The sense of being people of depth, rooted in God, even though we may rarely mention his name.

We are looking into this uncertain future as churches too, and as communities, and as a country. There will be many things that we need to do. But maybe this is an opportunity for us to really think about who we want to be. What is it about our church which can really speak to people? What have we learnt about the character of our community during this time? In all the controversies of these times, can we find our way to a new sense of our national identity?

I use an app called ‘Pray as you go’ each morning. There is a short title by the prayer for the day, and today’s title was one word: ‘Abide.’ It comes from the picture Jesus paints of himself as the vine and us as the branches. What he calls his disciples to do is not a list of religious or moral tasks, but this one word – abide. We are to abide in him. To live connected to him. To allow his life and his love to flow through us as the sap flows through the vine.

Then, he says, we will bear fruit – his fruit – the fruit of justice, and kindness, and humility. The fruit of our lives, lived out in all the uncertainty and opportunity of the future.

This reminds me of one of the tomatoes that I have somehow managed to grow from seed. It hasn’t had to do anything – just sit in it’s pot in the warmth of the conservatory, being watered and occasionally fed by me. And now it has lots of tomatoes on it – amazing!

Rowan Williams describes prayer as simply allowing ourselves to sit in the warm of God’s love, and trusting in the difference that makes. May you continue to abide in God’s love, and allow the life of Jesus to flow through you, and may you delight to see the fruit that God is growing in and through your life in the weeks and months and years ahead.

  • Lord Jesus, we thank you for the connection we have shared with each other through these services – and we thank you for the connection we have we you, now and in all of our lives. As we look ahead into an uncertain future, give us grace to abide in you.
  • We pray for the university… for returning students and new students, who are uncertain and scared. We pray for staff who are anxious or overworked. We pray that we be able to build a sense of community in this new times. Lord, work through us as chaplains and through all those who are open to you – and help us to be beacons of hope, sources of kindness and builders of belonging.
  • We pray for our churches, our communities and our country. Lord, we long for the values of your kingdom to be lived out in our life together. May we be part of that by the way that we live as your people, rooted in your goodness and grace, your life and your love.

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