We’re coming to the end of that month of the year in which many regions of the country see competition at its highest level. On most Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, stadiums and gymnasiums have been filled with the faithful from all walks of life, as their teams compete to bring honour and glory to their respective team or districts. This can bring out both the best and worst in players, onlookers and parents.
Many of you will remember with smiles and nods some of the pranks and tricks pulled due to rivalries between schools, teams or university groups. How many of you still harbour a mascot, jumper or flag in their bottom drawer or out in the garage. Mascots still seem to be popular, but we don’t, like some overseas countries, offer prayer and blessing for our school team, district team or side in the national competition. Games still seem to generate the sort of rivalry that makes opponents though decorate their club rooms or gym.
I wonder if we would go as far as some of the American teams and put up a huge sign that read of such things as “God is on Our Side!” When such banners go up it must bring gasps of surprise. I sometimes wonder what the group’s motivation may have been as God apparently didn’t always play well and teams didn’t always win the contest. This week’s scripture readings reflect a sense of God being on the side of those whose stories are set for this week. In the Hebrew scripture, Esther, when facing the destruction of her people and possibly herself, trusts that her behaviour and faith in God will deliver her and her people from what awaits them.
James in chapter 5 tells us that in facing suffering, illness, or sinfulness, with God on our side, we can be delivered. In the Mark 9, the disciples wonder if someone not from their circle can indeed do some of the things that they’ve been entrusted to do. In all the readings for this week, it is not so much a matter of whose side God is on, as it is whose side we are on. James would not have shared with us this powerful mandate for prayer if his faith did not reflect his willingness to be on God’s side. Jesus tells his disciples that we control—or should control—how we live our lives to reflect whether we’re on God’s side.
It is a role or vocation that we seek to take on as the baptised. It is a journey that we are called to support the newly baptised on. To be on God’s side means to have a commitment to go beyond just ourselves and our needs and to open our eyes and ears to God’s leading. To be like Esther, we must love like God, love our fellow human beings and be genuinely concerned about their well-being and safety.
As Jacinda Arden, the New Zealand Prime Minister spoke at the United Nations in this last week, she called for a different world order - one that puts kindness" ahead of isolationism, rejection and racism. Her speech directly challenged the view of the world outlined by the US President. She went on to say that, "We can use the environment to blame nameless, faceless 'other', to feed the sense of insecurity, to retreat into greater levels of isolationism. Or we can acknowledge the problems we have and seek to fix them." I would add we can seek to be on God’s side and seek the goodness in and of all of creation.
Christians are called to have that faith that says our conversations with God are important especially as we seek help, healing and the lifting of discomfort of others. The way Jesus lived his life calls us to help others. Our call involves commitments of deep faith. To care about others begins with a faith that accepts Gods care for us. We are called to pray for others on a regular basis understanding that God hears all prayers. To care about others means that we open our eyes and ears to see and hear the needs of those who are suffering around us. This may involve leaving our comfort zones, our areas of security and familiarity, to travel to those parts of our community where previously we have been afraid to go or have felt unwanted.
This may also involve opening up doors of communication that will reveal hurts and pains for healing. To care about others may involve our confronting ourselves about how we’ve lived to this point. It may mean our having to change from being self-centred to God-centred and other-centred. The faith adventure that Jesus called us to follow can start in the lavish palace of a foreign king, in lush pastures turned to savage battlefields, in the quiet of a prayer room or worship area, or in the comfort and quiet of our own homes. At all these times our God is with us. God promises to continue to be with us. What better adventure can we hope for.