GOOD NEWS BROADCAST
July 15, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. The people celebrated the festival [as they were instructed by the Word] for seven days. On the eighth day [the Sabbath day], in accordance with the regulations set forth, there was an assembly.” (Nehemiah 8.18)
Okay, I want to follow-up yesterday’s reflection on “lawful assembly” with the proposition that in all things love should be our aim. It appears that far too many assemblies in today’s world are merely opportunities to promote some version of hate. The cause may certainly warrant focus and attention but what is the real intent and purpose of gathering together to draw attention to it? And while I would love for faith to be the paradigm for all people, I recognize that it is not. This is a sad commentary on the state of the world. It is the source of great lament. The sadness that fills my soul and troubles my mind when I think of the fruit left on the vine. It is not left so that sojourners near the field of the Kingdom may have the opportunity to glean. It is left because that which is given has not been taken. And too often, it has not been taken because the power of “the lie” tempts others to believe that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. I would suggest that such thinking is the lure of “unlawful assembly.”
So, let me speak, in reflection, words which those who are followers of Christ and partakers in faith, hope and love (the greatest of these being love) may connect with. My question of inquiry would direct our thinking of an answer to this question: What is the purpose of our participation in any assembly? My answer would be “to worship and to serve the Lord our God” and “to present the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ as the rubric for making all our decisions on how to make disciples in and of all nations.” We dare not lay hold of the idea that we can live dual lives. Oh, we often do exactly that and I confess guilt in that area as well. However, it is not my intention to do so. The lack of wisdom and the depth of passion may be so great that I choose unwisely how I express my love for life and God. The two should be as one. I give thanks to God for His offering of forgiveness, redirection, reconciliation and forward movement. This is the due process of mentoring and discipleship. No one alive today is perfect so there is always room for improvement and growth, especially in this area.
That being said, let me continue with the proposal of the question: What is the purpose of our participation in any assembly? If it is anything that would detract from worshiping and serving God and making disciples of Jesus the Christ then why would we participate? It certainly dare not be because it serves “my” purpose unless “my” purpose is that of God and His directing through the Holy Spirit! There is a saying common said by a co-worker of mine because of his love for hockey which says “There was a fight and a hockey game broke out!” A bit of back-handed humor, I grant you. How often do we see or hear about the number of fights in a hockey game. I wouldn’t know what a hockey game was that didn’t have a fight in it. Does that mean you can’t play hockey without a fight? What would Paul say if hockey had been a sport of the “empire”? Would it be: I have skated a good game. I have fought the good fight.”? Granted it is a sport of aggressiveness and not passivity. But, then, neither is the call to make disciples in and of all nations. And neither is the call to worship the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor (and your enemy) as yourself. But, if the intent of playing hockey is to legitimate fighting because, and no sexism is intended, “boys will be boys,” then hockey could be seen as an unlawful assembly because it promotes violence as its goal. Yes, in spite of some participants giving thanks to God for letting them be so “good” at hockey while cotton is shoved up their nose and butterfly bandaids cover stitches over their eye, praise to God would sound a little shallow. That is not a sampling of a worshipful service nor a service of worship. So, what is our purpose in any assembly if it is not to bear witness to the truth of God’s will for all people? It would seem that more witnessing to this truth would have a profound effect on the assembly itself and the invitation for others to give them a fair hearing. When Martin Luther King, Jr., would join in an assembly with the singing of “We Shall Overcome” it was not with the intention of promoting external change with violence. No, it was with the intent of promoting internal change with the peace that surpasses all understanding. But, in the hands of those who do not wish to be “at peace in themselves with God” there will always be chaos and the invitation to violate the true will of God by the “breaking of the Law.”
When the Apostle Paul speaks of the participation in the “assembly of breaking bread,” communion or The Lord’s Supper, he does so with the caveat of making things right with your “brother.” The term “brother” is indicative of all relationships but leaning back on the guiding principle of the second sin when Cain killed Abel. Paul taught, “If there is anyone against which you have ill-will or hard feelings, then that relationship must be given the full opportunity for reconciliation.” Strange, is it not, that in the story of Cain versus Abel we do not hear the answer to Cain’s question of his brother or God. That question was “Why was Abel’s sacrifice acceptable to God while Cain’s was not?” The short answer is “Because God said so.” But, there is more to the answer than that. It was about God’s act of reconciliation which allows the people of God to assemble together “lawfully and peacefully.” There is a connection between the sacrifice of an animal (Abel’s sacrifice) and God’s sacrifice of an animal (God’s sacrifice to provide covering for Adam and Eve and relieve them of their shame). There is also a connection between the product of working the land (Cain’s sacrifice) and the curse God put upon Adam for his part in the commission of the original “first” sin. That curse, or penalty for sin, was having to work the land in order to gain sustenance with his own hands instead of reaping the benefits of a natural order within the Garden of Eden. It is a sort of “salvation by works or works righteousness.” Their sin closed that “peaceful” opportunity for the age of the world ( the human community). They were separated out from it just as Cain was then separated out from his family and directed to a “safe city” where by the mark of God he would be protected from physical harm. A life would not be required for a life taken either by vengeance or reparation. A truce was called by God with His mark on Cain. We, are similarly marked by the cross and blood of Jesus, God’s sacrifice, so that the shame of our sin will not condemn us but lead us to a safe place in the body of Christ. This is our true assembly. It is lawful and peaceful, or at least it is intended to be by God. With humans, it seems to be assumed to be different. With the mighty ones of Yahweh Elohim, the followers of Christ, it must never be different. Jesus declared about the Last Supper remembrance, “As often as you break this bread and drink this cup do so in remembering Me.” Paul taught, “And when you come together, is it not for partaking in the Lord’s Supper, remembering His death (for your salvation) until He comes again?” It seems, however, their time of remembrance had become a practice of separation and not a “lawful,” by God’s decree, assembly.
So, mighty ones of God and followers of the Way of Christ, let me play off that hockey analogy mentioned previously with a call to accountability in the following way. I pray we will remember it whenever and wherever we gather in a “lawful” assembly for the cause of peace. There was a march, riot, protest or mass gathering conducted by those “seeking justice” and a service of worship broke out and Jesus’ was remembered in the feeding of the many with the “flesh and blood” of our Lord in bread and wine. There and then, God’s presence is celebrated and His will, not humanity’s, is done. That kind of assembly, whenever and wherever it would happen, would have the most profound effect. I believe it would achieve the greatest satisfaction as well for those who pursue the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness will be sustained, protected and provided in what is needed and not in what is demanded. Let those with ears to hear, hear; and those with eyes to see, see. This is the greatest opportunity to demonstrate the love of God for us as the confirmed “one another.” Shalom.
OUR CALL TO PRAYER:
Father God, how great is Your name in all existence from beginning to end which has no beginning nor end. You have determined to love us into life. You have committed Yourself to love us through this life. You have promised to give us life eternal and in all fullness. We thank You. We commit ourselves to faithful assembly in all we say and do. We abide by Your forgiveness for when we fall short. We acknowledge that not so we may excuse our ill-considered behavior but as a thanksgiving for reconciliation when our efforts are aligned with Your will and not ours be done. Bless us in our determination to be “people of Your Word.” In Jesus’ name, we pray. AMEN.