Freely received, freely given

Proper 6 (June 15, 2008)
Common Lectionary Texts:
Ex. 19:2-8a; Ps. 100; Rom. 5:1-8; Matt. 9:35-10:8

This week, two members of the MCC Palestine team were turned back by Israeli authorities when they tried to enter Gaza to visit partner organizations who are working with Gaza’s most vulnerable people. Plans for a delegation of Iranian religious leaders to travel to the U.S. in August also experienced a set back when the U.S. State Department informed MCC that is doubtful that visas will be approved in time.

MCC Palestine colleagues enjoy a meal in Jerusalem

On the more hopeful side, we met in Jordan with staff from the Middle East Council of Churches to plan a conference in early August that will bring together young adults from Canada, the United States and the Middle East to promote greater understanding. We also met with partners from northern and southern Jordan who are working on water projects that bring life to their communities.

The Lectionary texts this week invite us to remember and reflect on God’s actions and character – then to respond accordingly. All the readings highlight God’s desire for relationship with the human community and God’s special concern for vulnerable people.

In the Old Testament reading, God commands Moses to tell the people: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Ex. 19:4). In response, if the people will only obey God’s voice and keep God’s covenant, they will be God’s “treasured possession,” a “priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (vv. 5-6).

The psalmist calls us to remember that:
• God has created us and we belong to God (Ps. 100:3a).
• We are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture (v. 3b).
• God is good and God’s steadfast love and faithfulness endure forever (v. 5).
An appropriate human response is to worship God with joy, gladness, singing, thanksgiving and praise (vv. 1-2, 4).

Paul says that God’s love for us is demonstrated in that, “while we were still weak,” (Rom. 5:6) and, “while we were still sinners,” (v.8) Christ died for us. Because we have experienced God’s grace, we are to respond by boasting in both our hope and our sufferings, which produce character (vv. 2-5).

In the Gospel reading Jesus has compassion on the crowds because they are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). Jesus calls his disciples to continue the ministry that he has begun. They are to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleans the lepers and cast out demons (10:7-8a). The disciples have “received without payment.” Now they are to “give without payment” (10:8b).

Rather than remembering and reflecting on all that God is and has done, I too often long for new dramatic displays of God’s power. Delivering a people from slavery in Egypt sounds pretty impressive! But what about the Palestinians or Iraqis who suffer under occupation? Raising the dead, healing the sick and casting out demons would catch my attention! But what about simply softening the hearts of U.S. and Iranian officials so that they would be willing to meet and discuss their differences?

In short, I want God to be more and do more. I want God to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so that all can live securely in the land. I want God to end the fighting in Iraq and restore the millions of uprooted Iraqis to their homes. I want God to intervene and make leaders talk to each other.

The readings this week push us to be more and do more in light of what God has already done. They invite us to listen to God’s voice. They invite us to remember God’s deliverance and grace in our own lives. They invite us to remember our identity as God’s people – a priestly kingdom and holy nation that is to be a blessing to all nations. They invite us to be and bring about signs of God’s kingdom, giving freely as we have freely received.

In the week ahead, MCC staff will try again to go to Gaza. We will begin to work on a new date for an Iranian delegation to travel to the United States. We will seek to remember that God’s steadfast love and faithfulness endures forever – and that God is at work through us and often in spite of us.

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