Proper 22

2nd October 2022

Reflections (the readings are at the end)

The Book of Lamentations contains a series of laments made in response to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian forces. In today’s exert, the writer mourns over an abandoned Jerusalem. Jerusalem now has no useful purpose: it has lost its identity and its raison d’être. It has been overtaken by events. 

 Not – thankfully – through war, but many towns cities in the UK feel abandoned. The vitality of their shopping centres sapped by empty units and boarded up shop fronts. Their hubs of industry and employment diminished as old manufacturing processes and products have become defunct, the skills of their workforce no longer of use. Derelict and disused sites cast a blighted shadow over the land. With the loss of jobs, goes a loss of self worth and civic pride. As incomes fall, so the reliance on overstretched public services rises. Residents become trapped unable to escape the encroaching poverty – and poverty brings a further deterioration of living standards. Levelling up, re invigorating the economy, re-equipping the people remains an unfulfilled promise. Borrowing from the writings of St Paul, since we are one body, we all suffer when one part suffers – but perhaps not so acutely in the wealthier suburbs. 

Why is Jerusalem in such a sorry plight? Because of its people’s sinfulness. Because the people chose to worship gods other than the one true God. Because the people choose not to live their lives in accordance with God’s ways. Rather they choose to be greedy, self interested and acquisitive. Might the same criticisms be turned towards us in 2022? Both our government and our economic model favours constant growth over sufficiency, personal gain over social good, tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poor. We are stuck in an economy that is tied to the fossil fuel industry which cannot see beyond the promise of profits, to the threat of the climate crisis; which refuses to listen to the prophets of the age and refuse to shift allegiance to renewable energy.

Today’s offering for a psalm is a further exert from Lamentations. The desperate state of affairs still weighs heavy on the writer but now there is also a sense of hope. ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,’ asserts the writer, and ‘therefore I will hope in Him’.  Last week we heard how Jeremiah expressed his confidence that at some point in the future God’s people would return once to their city and its lands. Have we that hope, that vision, that our towns and cities can be place of happiness and self worth and sufficiency, where all can share in the wealth and vitality of a just society?

The Letter to Timothy is full of inspiring words. Our faith is a gift, a treasure entrusted to us by God! We are to guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit. It is a grace by which God gives a spirit of power and of love and of self discipline. I wonder if we exercise these powers enough? Or are they like muscles we forget we have and therefore forget to use? How should we be using these gifts? In declaring the good news: talking about and living out in our lives the Kingdom values that Jesus has shown. These are the values that our desolated towns need. These are the values that will restore justice, that will level up society, that will enrich lives and restore balance in the natural environment. 

Should we then be surprised by what Jesus says about what faith can achieve? Let us be confident in living by faith, living lives true to Jesus’s kingdom values, and let us share this good news so that  these values will shape the whole world.

Lamentations 1:1-6

How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!

How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!

She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;

among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her;

all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
they have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile with suffering
and hard servitude;

she lives now among the nations,
and finds no resting place;

her pursuers have all overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.

The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to the festivals;

all her gates are desolate,
her priests groan;

her young girls grieve,
and her lot is bitter.

Her foes have become the masters,
her enemies prosper,

because the Lord has made her suffer
for the multitude of her transgressions;

her children have gone away,
captives before the foe.

From daughter Zion has departed
all her majesty.

Her princes have become like stags
that find no pasture;

they fled without strength
before the pursuer.

Lamentations 3:19-26

The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!

My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.

It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

2 Timothy 1:1-14

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am grateful to God– whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did– when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Luke 17:5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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