Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
When God’s people live out faithfully the truth of Christ, life and wholeness are brought into the world. It is this call to integrity that forms the basis of our worship this week.
First Reading — OT: Micah 3:5-12
OT Response: Psalm 43
Second Reading — Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12
The theme of this week’s readings is that of the corruption of religious leaders, a warning against hypocrisy, and the necessity to remain humble together in God’s community. In Micah’s prophecy, the false prophets and corrupt leaders who lead the people of God astray are warned of the judgement that will come upon them. The problem here was that the people preferred the false prophets with their easy and undemanding religion to the true prophets who called the people to obey their God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes this undemanding religion when he defines “cheap grace” — “forgiveness without repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, grace without discipleship…”
In the Gospel, Jesus warns against following the hypocritical behavior of the religious leaders and encourages his followers to refrain from seeking to dominate one another, but rather to see each other as equal as they live humbly together.
In the second reading, the church is reminded of how good leaders brought God’s salvation to them, and how they found life in the Gospel message, which enables them to live lives worthy of God. Central to Paul’s ministry to the church in Thessalonica is his love for them and that they are together brothers and sisters in the faith. The integrity of Paul’s ministry team, their faithfulness to the truth of Christ, brought the people to accept Paul’s message not as a human message, but God’s message.
When we use faith as a way to dominate and exploit others, when we fail to live what we preach, we bring pain on others, and we get in the way of God’s saving work in others, forcing them to listen to what we say, but reject the example of our lives. Unfortunately, this hypocrisy is too often what causes people to reject the Church and its message in our world today. Yet, the world still longs for people of faith who follow Christ with integrity and who truly reflect God’s saving character and purpose in their lives. May we be those who offer this reflection.
Integrity is a much-needed trait in all human affairs, although it is too often found to be absent. In many of our greatest leaders, this has been the defining characteristic and has informed and given power to their work and their message. People like Lincoln, Gandhi, Mandela, and Tutu come to mind here. The challenge for those who are leaders on a global scale is to consistently make the choice for integrity over expediency. This can be tough when the expedient route can so easily seem to get quicker and more effective results. Yet, when high standards of ethics and justice are established and maintained, the impact on the world is always lasting, healing and liberating.
What this means for us, in practical terms, is that all who seek to follow Christ have a responsibility to support leaders (wherever they may be found) and decisions that are just, liberating and consistent with principles of integrity, for when we do this, we open the door for God’s salvation to come to all of us, but especially to the poor and marginalised. It’s like a safe pathway is opened up through the flood waters of greed, power-mongering, and corruption.
In addition, in whatever small way we may exert influence in our corner of the world, we are likewise called to live with integrity and to be the servants of the community in Jesus’ name in order that God’s reign and salvation may be reflected in us and be adopted by those who receive our message and benefit from our work – like the apostles with the Thessalonian church. That is the kind of greatness we should seek.
Teach us the courage, Oh God, to turn from what seems so natural, so safe: the way of grasping power, and befriending the powerful, in the hope of protection and security.
Teach us the humility, Oh God, to turn from what is so enticing, so persuasive: the way of accumulating things, and trusting in wealth, in the hope of comfort and life
Lead us, O God, in another way, the way of true security, true wealth, the way of Christ, the servant, the way of weakness and simplicity.
Lead us, O God, in another way, the way of caring for the neglected, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, protecting the threatened, and challenging the powerful, the foolish way of the Gospel that brings salvation to all.