The State of the Union’ of Your Life: A Christian Perspective

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The State of the Union’ of Your Life: A Christian Perspective
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Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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What is the ‘State of the Union’ of your life?
I would have like to have asked this question from a Canadian perspective, but I was afraid if I asked you, “What is the ‘speech from the Throne’ of your life?” you would have thought I was enquiring into your personal life in a little too much detail!

But this is a time for reflection for some of us – to examine our lives, to set our sights on new goals, or perhaps old goals that appear annually at this time.

I offer that we have two lovely gifts of wisdom to enrich your musings.

Nehemiah Nehemiah 8.1-3,5-6,9-10 has come back to Jerusalem after exile; the walls of the city have been destroyed and the people feel vulnerable. Nehemiah was a wonderful combination of engineer and theologian. He guides them in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. But Nehemiah knows that the people need more than physical walls to keep them safe. In this passage, he takes them to the next step of their healing as a nation.

Nehemiah began to organize them to rebuild their community life and rediscover their spirituality as God-worshippers by embracing the values that they had been given by God.

And so he had the priest Ezra read the law to the people and interpreted it. The whole law, every day for seven days. It was a kind of ‘state of the union’. It was a time for reflection, for repenting of the breaking of the law in the past, and for commitment to a new definition of who they are: people of their God.

What Nehemiah describes in this second stage of organizing was the move from solving a single problem (broken-down walls) to building a permanent people’s organization and articulating the values upon which that organization would be maintained.

The ‘state of the union’ speech that Luke records is really more like an inaugural address, or – yes – a speech from the throne. Luke 4.14-21

This is the mission statement of Jesus – the only place in the Gospels that Jesus tells both his listeners and the reader what he perceives his own mission to be. All the remainder of the gospel is the acting out of this scripture that Jesus reads in the synagogue that Sabbath day, and claims as his mission. It is a quote from Isaiah 61:1-2.

18‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

The Year of the Lord’s Favour was the Jubilee year.
The law stipulated that every seventh year was a Sabbatical year – three things were to happen:

  1. Rest: the land was to be left fallow – nothing was to be grown on it so it could rest and regenerate.
  2. Loans were to be forgiven
  3. Slaves were to be freed

The Jubilee year happened every 7 seven cycles – 49 years.
That year, land was to be returned to the families of the original owners.

The religious leaders had personally obeyed and they taught the people to obey only one stipulation of the Jubilee – that of allowing the land to lie fallow – while ignoring the injunctions to forgive debts, release slaves and redistribute wealth.

Rich and Poor
2% of the people in Jesus’ time would have been religious leaders or landowners.
18% were artisans running small family businesses and were in debt to the elite.
80% farmers, peasants.
50% of what they earned went to the owner of the land

25% land taxes to Herod and Roman governors
10% to religious leaders to run temple and the religious bureaucracy
3% to village where they lived to run the town and provide loans to the needy.
12% was left to provide for their families and to buy seed, etc. for the next year’s crop.

The beggars on the street would likely have been farmers whose debt had spiraled out of control.

What was Jesus doing by reading from Isaiah in the synagogue and proclaiming, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing?”

What he was, in essence, proclaiming was this message:

“You wealthy and powerful, as well as the people – you are to keep the entire Jubilee, and not just one regulation of it. I have come to bring about the setting free of this great people, so that none of us will be rich, none will be poor, and all of us will live in “shalom” with each other.

Jesus had come proclaiming a reversal of his entire society, so that wealth, power and religious control would no longer be lodged in the hands of a few, while all the rest would be thrust into ever-deeper poverty. That is what Jesus meant by “the kingdom of God”!

The mission statement of Jesus found in Luke is a statement of a full liberation of the people and systems of Israel. It is a mission statement that would draw an oppressed and exploited peasantry to him. And it was also a mission statement that would strike terror into the political, economic and religious elite of Jewish society.

What does your life look like through the lens of Jesus? Are there rules you are living your life by that are stultifying? Stopping you from living in peace with someone else?

As we reflect on our lives, we cannot do that without looking through a lens given to us by Jesus. “Open my eyes that I may see glimpses of truth you have for me.”

Our ‘state of the union’, our annual self examination can’t be effective if we don’t examine our lives through Jesus’ lens. And when we do adjust our goals with his good news in mind, then with Nehemiah, we can celebrate God’s good gift of the law, but also the means of being freed from that law.

What does your life look like through the lens of Jesus? Are there rules you are living your life by that are stultifying? Stopping you from living in peace with someone else?

‘She did x to me so I don’t have anything to do with her,’ might be a sentence that is challenged by Jesus’ lens. A rule you have made for yourself that brings hurt to your family.

A couple have come to me to plan their wedding and postponed twice so far, because one of their parents doesn’t like the intended spouse. They struggle to live their love while trying to build a relationship with someone who hasn’t been able to lift Jesus’ lens to their own eye.

Jesus’ mission took him on a journey that pushed him into actions which were the opposite of what was expected. He healed on the Sabbath, talked to foreigners and women, even to foreign women. He so often turned people’s expectations upside down.

There is the story — it may even be true — of the fellow who was robbed of his wallet at knifepoint. As the thief left him, he called out to him, “wait! If you are so desperate for money that you would risk jail to get it, you must be cold too. Here, have my coat.” “Why are you giving me your coat?” Because you are cold. You’re likely hungry too, so why don’t you join me? I was on my way to that diner over there to eat dinner. The thief joined him. In the diner, everyone greeted his host, who was a regular. The thief was awestruck. They ate. Then the Good Samaritan said, “since you took my wallet, you’ll have to pay for our meal.” The thief handed him his wallet back. He gave him the cash left in the wallet. “Here, you need this. But I’d like you to give me something in exchange: your knife.” The knife was handed over immediately.
“Perhaps,” the Good Samaritan said after, “perhaps I did him some good.”

To hold up the Jesus lens is to begin to think about your life outside of the box. Freed from the rules of humans to follow the law of God wherever it takes you.

It took Jesus to the cross, but it also took him on a journey that has changed our lives and the lives of millions.

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