Monday, January 21, 2008

Blue Monday and The Mission of The Church

Isaiah 9.1-4
Faith in God is about real liberation, not just from spiritual darkness but from oppression. The reference to Galilee, the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, relates to its conquest by the army of Assyria but Christians would later relate it to the story of Jesus. Galilee and its people were the first ones to hear the Good News he brought.

Is the same good news a source of joy and rejoicing for us? And what do we make of the rather inappropriate comparison with sharing out the spoils of war? Isn't the sort of exultation experienced by plunderers more akin to greed and vengefulness than to spiritual growth? The comparison with harvest time seems much more appropriate.

This week includes Blue Monday, supposedly the gloomiest day of the year when Christmas credit card bills, broken new year resolutions, bad weather and dark winter evenings combine to make the nation feel more miserable and flat than at any other time. Perhaps we should just be glad that we have nothing more serious happening each day to make us feel gloomy. But even in a land of deep darkness Christians can rejoice that we have seen the light.

1 Corinthians 1.10-18
Paul's leadership of the Church at Corinth was not distinguished by the number of people he brought into the church. He can only remember two families whom he baptised. Nor does he expect to be remembered for his eloquent preaching or cleverness, at least not in comparison to Apollos who was, apparently, a brilliant preacher. The only thing which was special about Paul's leadership was his single-minded focus on the crucifixion of Jesus and what that means for the human race. What else, says Paul, can matter in the life of a church when compared to the good news of Jesus crucified for our sakes? And if we believe in Christ crucified, and his power to help us, what can be so important that it causes Christians to squabble among themselves and become divided? Unfortunately, these questions are just as pressing today as they were when Paul and Sosthenes wrote to the church in Corinth.

Matthew 4.12-23
We have already seen that Christians believe Jesus' ministry was foretold by the Prophet Isaiah. This belief dates back to a time before the Gospel of Matthew was written, but Matthew quotes the prophecy as one of his 'proof texts' about the uniqueness and universal significance of Jesus.

Jesus' message is simple. To escape from darkness into light people have to repent, or change direction in their lives. And this is graphically illustrated by the fisherpeople who give up their family business to become people fishers. Yet, although they will grow the Church by winning new disciples for Jesus' message, spreading the Gospel is not a numbers game. Some churches grow for entirely the wrong reasons. And some churches struggle and decline because of the opposition they face, and not through any fault of their members or leaders. Jesus' first apostles were called to do no more, and no less, than imitate his example, which was not to baptise huge numbers of converts but simply to proclaim the good news and offer healing and reconciliation. This is what Paul did also at Corinth.

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