Day Thirty Two: Within-Without

Psalm 110
Proverbs 1:20-33
James 4:1-10

Over countless meals with family, friends and/or acquaintances, talk turns – every time – to the terrible state that the world is in …

… the dishonesty, bigotry, and greed of many of her leaders; and the corruptive power of power …

… the economic reasons behind wars and “peace-keeping” efforts in resource-rich countries while, in other parts of the world, entire tribes and cultures are able to wipe each other out without intervention…

… those truly awkward conversations that begin with “I’m not a racist but …” or “I have nothing against gay people but …” and end with the uneasy truce “let’s just agree to disagree” or the less-easy sound of someone walking away in disgust and frustration…

… the latest horrifying terrorist attack, freeway pile-up, farm murder etc. and the inevitable laying of blame at some group that we are obviously not part of ….

The underlying message:
the world is in a terrible state
but
we are not to blame;
in fact, we are far better people than most!

In James’ letter to Jewish Christians living in an angry society divided by greed and jealousy, James asks a pertinent, piercing question which is very much relevant to the terrible state of the world today:

“What causes quarrels
and what causes fights among you?”
(James 4:1). 

Take a moment to answer James’ question in terms of:
1. fights and quarrels within the world,
2. fights and quarrels that have occurred specifically within your life and relationships.

 One of the more irritating habits that my boys picked up during their preschool years was chanting in response to anyone who pointed at them:
“For every finger you point at me, there are three pointing right back at you.”

But this is precisely James’ point: for all that we try to distance ourselves from blame or responsibility for the state of the world around us, what happens without is really a mirror of what is happening within our own hearts and minds.

We go after what we desire despite the cost or consequences to others; maybe drawing a line at actually committing a murder, but often killing a person’s trust or reputation or marriage without remorse.

And the things we covet that we are unable to get our hands on become the source of sour relationships, the reason why our words are full of anger and frustration and criticism and bile.

We would rather go without something than humble ourselves and ask for it, openly, honestly, vulnerably.

And when we do manage to swallow our pride and ask but don’t receive, we are outraged – even though what we were asking for was selfish or wrong or impossible for the other person to give in the first place (James 4:2-3).

Then, as with those who scoffed at Wisdom’s call, who turned from her life-giving ways,
terror strikes,
calamity comes like a whirlwind,
distress and anguish fill our days;

we have our fill of our own devices,
then choke on the fruit of our desires
(Proverbs 1:26-27,31).

The world without is a reflection of the world within – a compounded, magnified version of our own sin.
But, through the grace of God, the inner (and then) the outer can change.

Prayerfully reflect on James 4:6-10 as you seek change within – and without.

 

It’s nothing but smoke

* contemplating in community Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 and James 1:2-11*

You will need:

  • a central altar or table,
  • a black table cloth,
  • a large candle (with three wicks is helpful to invoke visually the image of a Triune God),
  • smaller tea lights (sufficient for the group),
  • a lighter or matches,
  • copies of the service, one per participant.

Ritual actions indicated in red and congregational/group responses in purple. 

Part 1: Nearing the light
1.1 Welcome and an invitation to silence

1.2 A suitable piece of music is played or sung e.g. Be still for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here

1.3. Praying the Psalms (based on Ps. 119:145-152) 

<the black tablecloth is placed on altar and unfolded >

Like those watching and waiting for the sunrise,
we cry out to You, O God, – our Help and our Salvation –
for our eyes have seen the darkness of night
and the gloom that grows 
as the world wanders
farther and farther from Your truth.

<the large candle is placed in the centre of the altar and lit>
Our deepest desire is to come closer to You,
to live in Your Light,
to learn from the Word that will last forever.

In Your love, hear our voice;

in Your justice, keep us alive;

in Your mercy, draw us near.

1.4 A suitable piece of music is played or sung e.g. So you would come

during which <people are invited to bring their candles forward, light them from the central candle and place them upon the altar>

Part 2: Seeing the smoke
2.1 Old Testament reading – Ecclesiastes 1:3-11 (The Message)
Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.]
There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.

<the candles that each participant has lit are blown out and a moment of silent kept as they smoke>

What’s there to show for a lifetime of work,
a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone?
One generation goes its way, the next one arrives,
but nothing changes—it’s business as usual for old planet earth.

The sun comes up and the sun goes down,
then does it again, and again—the same old round.
The wind blows south, the wind blows north.
Around and around and around it blows, blowing this way, then that
—the whirling, erratic wind.
All the rivers flow into the sea, but the sea never fills up.
The rivers keep flowing to the same old place, and then start all over and do it again.

Everything’s boring, utterly boring—no one can find any meaning in it.
Boring to the eye, boring to the ear.
What was will be again, what happened will happen again.
There’s nothing new on this earth. Year after year it’s the same old thing.
Does someone call out, “Hey, this is new”?
Don’t get excited—it’s the same old story.

Nobody remembers what happened yesterday.
And the things that will happen tomorrow?
Nobody’ll remember them either. Don’t count on being remembered.

2.2. Prayer of confession
Lord of Love, of Light, of Life 
how grateful we are for the gentle whisper to draw near;
to leave at the door, the busyness and the burdens of the week gone by;
to bring to the cross, the brokenness and the bitterness both inflicted upon us and by us,
in thought and word and deed;
to see through the darkness, the bold blaze of Your Spirit at work – with and within us.

<silence>

Yet even as we unwind in Your presence,
even as our lives are renewed by Your love,
we know too well how quickly this hour passes
and how easily our delightful dance with Your Spirit
 is replaced
by the relentless pursuit of smoke
that is such an accepted part of daily life.

Forgive us this day/night for the shortness of our attention 

and the shallowness of our commitment to walk in Your light;

show us how insubstantial the power, the popularity,
the possessions we pursue really are

against Your eternal promises;

guard us against the disease of dissatisfaction that demands we give in
to our greed, our laziness, our pride, our lust;
And help us to persevere in the way of humility, justice and love.
Amen.

2.3 A suitable piece of music is played or sung e.g. Create in me a clean heart ...

Part 3: Reigniting the flame

3.1 New Testament reading: James 1:2-11 (The Message)

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.

When down-and-outers get a break, cheer! And when the arrogant rich are brought down to size, cheer! Prosperity is as short-lived as a wildflower, so don’t ever count on it. You know that as soon as the sun rises, pouring down its scorching heat, the flower withers. Its petals wilt and, before you know it, that beautiful face is a barren stem. Well, that’s a picture of the “prosperous life.” At the very moment everyone is looking on in admiration, it fades away to nothing.

3.2 A brief meditation is offered or participants are invited to share the grace that they have received through the passages.

<silence>

3.3. Prayers for one another and/or the world
The apostle James challenges us to consider the tests and challenges that life brings our way as a gift for they force our faith-life into the open. But he also reminds us that we do not face them alone but with the help of the Father who loves us and listens to what we ask. So we pray this day – boldly, believingly – for those who are wilting and withering under life’s pressure and problems.

<as prayers are offered by the members, the candles are solemnly lifted up one by one and relit from the central flame as an invitation for Christ’s love to shine in the places of darkness and pain;>

The leader concludes:

Great God who set the sun in place and flung the night’s stars into space,
shine Your light upon our world with such power and compassion 
that the shadows of sin and shame, of worry and uncertainty may fade away;
touch the deep places of pain, of disappointment, of broken relationship 
with such healing warmth that hope and wholeness and health may bloom;
and colour our lives like sunset skies with perfect peace and joy everlasting.

Part 4: Bearing the light

4.1 Sharing the peace

<the peace of the Lord is shared with each person collecting a candle and offering it to another>

4.2. Benediction

<when all the candles have been given, the group blesses one another with the words:>  

The light of God surrounds us.
The love of God enfolds us.
The power of God protects us.
The presence of God watches over us.
Wherever we are, God is.
May we bear God’s light well.

4.3 A suitable piece of music is played or sung e.g. We’ll walk this land …