Deuteronomy 15: 1 – 11
Philippians 1: 1 – 11
Matthew 28: 16 – 20
Under what conditions does God bless a people, a group, a nation? Do you have to be chosen, as were the Israelites were; or do you simply fulfil certain conditions?
And how many people in the group have to fulfil these conditions before blessing comes?
Whatever the answer may be, when you seek blessing, you enter a battle. The last thing the enemy of our souls wants is for us to be blessed.
When you’re in the midst of battle, it is good to know that. We are in the midst of a huge battle, and it is a battle for the control of your mind and mine.
This is because secularism has blinded us to just how separated from God we are, where our overweening pride (the same pride that saw an end to the Tower of Babel, namely self-sufficiency) grieves the heart of God; that we have forgotten what it is to be blessed by God as a community. Our ridiculous sense of self-importance (crassly associating modernity with good) gives us a false sense of the quality of our lives.
I could list the illnesses of the modern age but that would be boring. A little thought would reveal why it is that modern humans are so darned unhappy, why we spend so much on healthcare and on security.
Our communities are sick (no, not our world – our world consists of communities) and they are sick because of sin. I don’t mean the little things we do wrong and love to major on with moralistic outrage. I mean sin as in separation from God and his goodness.
And I’m not speaking about the kind of people whom respectable people like to blame – drunkards and prostitutes and the like – neither am I speaking about those modern sinners: terrorists, polluters of the environment, white collar fraudsters and capitalist moguls whose lifestyles deny ordinary human beings a slice of the cake; nor even the cold, hard and successful who never give a thought to their fellow human beings.
All these do contribute to the modern dilemma, but it is the life lived apart from God (often barely noticeably so) that is the most widespread disease of the modern age, because it poses so well as its opposite: a genteel life, in touch with things spiritual.
If we knew what good awaits us when we swap sin for grace, we’d flee to it. We saw it in the best days of the Commonwealth of Israel, we saw it in the early days of the Primitive Church, and we have seen it in communities that have experienced great Christian revival. Communal health and well-being. It permeates the whole of society and touches every single aspect of life.
Part of our problem, though, is that we understand paradise as settled wealth and verdant pasture. We have few images in our culture that depict journey as the way of God. We want the Promised Land, we don’t want the journey through the wilderness.
However it is often in the testing journey, as a group determined to follow God, a posse of pilgrims, marching to Zion; in short a Sent Community, that we find our greatest fulfilment. It is not so a much a rest from our labours as joy in our labouring that brings us the greatest sense of purpose and well-being.
Paul remembers the Philippians with great fondness because they rallied to his cause as a community: 7It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel.
Moses understood that all would be blessed when they obeyed the entire Law. 4There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, 5if only you will obey the Lord your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today.
God loves to work with communities. He doesn’t want us to struggle on our own. He looks for an increasing number of individuals in any community of faith, on the lookout for critical mass, so that he can bless all.
In our day what he looks for, along with close relationship with Jesus, is an obedience of all to the Great Commission. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
And there is a reason for all these superlatives: Jesus knew they were the pathway to blessing.
Our task, as a community of faith, is clear. It is to work as one to bring Jesus to all people in the way he has gifted us to do so. It is a task that has challenged the church for millennia. Where it has been taken on, the church has prospered; where it has not, it has faded.
And we are not alone in this task.
Mission begins with what God is doing in the world. That is why ours is a co-mission. We work alongside God.
We are a Sent Community, constantly moving towards others with good news. The world may be overwhelmingly secular, but we are not sent into a bleak and godless world. It is not godless because God is already at work there.
May we be found faithful and encouraged as we work alongside God: it is the path to communal blessing.