The year was 1988. My denomination (The United Church of Canada) had taken a difficult social justice position. Some had left the church in protest. Others had loudly complained—still others had celebrated the church’s courage. As the church leadership met that fall in a regional meeting, rather somberly (perhaps feeling some self pity), the president of our conference offered a comment I have never forgotten. He said, “We are not used to standing this close to the cross.”
Being a leader can be exciting. We may enjoy taking bold stands and being part of a progressive moment. Civil rights protesters must have found those heady days of the 1960s exciting too. We all lead in some way or other. We all find ourselves invited to take bold positions—on climate, race, peace, and a host of other issues.
But sometimes these stands and this “speaking out” can be hurtful. Moses, in our Exodus reading, discovers that his people do not appreciate his bold leadership. He has led them as God has instructed, but they snap at his heels in protest. What a painfully wrenching time for Moses!
We too need to be ready for those times when being a Christian is not easy. We may slide into thinking, People will always appreciate my leadership. I should be thanked and respected. If we have made significant sacrifices or gifts, we desire honor.
In those painful times, we remember that we too are called to stand “close to the cross.” We are challenged to speak boldly, even if unappreciated. We are to stand for right and truth, even if untruth seems more fashionable. For such days we will need to remember the saints and prophets of the past. Their stories of courage and stubborn faithfulness can help us continue fearlessly in our own journey of faithful living.
Holy Spirit, give us courage to endure the hard times and love for those whose ways seem to be at odds with God’s truth. Amen.
The mercy of God is a theme that surfaces this week. In Exodus 17 Israel is not sure that God is faithful or reliable. By requesting water and voicing an urgent need, Israel appears to be testing God to discover God’s power and inclination. Psalm 78 praises Yahweh for grace in liberating the people from Egyptian bondage. Yahweh’s mercy sustained and supported them. Philippians 2 begins with a statement about the need for human kindness and compassion and then moves to the work of mercy that motivates human love—the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. In the reading from Matthew, the mercy of God, which is extended to those who normally receive no mercy, illustrates not only the inclusive nature of God’s grace but also how different the kingdom of heaven is from the kingdoms of this world.
• Read Exodus 17:1-7. When has your “speaking out” been met with negative response? Have you ever felt you were standing too “close to the cross”?
• Read Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16. Today, listen for God rather than speak of God.
• Read Philippians 2:1-13. When have you emptied yourself and become a servant?
• Read Matthew 21:23-32. How well do your actions match your words in terms of obedience to the commands of Christ?
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