Reading Ramblings – August 26th, 2012

Date: August 26th, 2012,
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts:
Isaiah 29:11-19; Psalm 14; Ephesians 5:22-33; Mark 7:1-13

Contextual
Notes:
We remain in the longest season of the Church
Year, the non-festival season of Ordinary Time. Except for a few
other festival Sundays, Ordinary Time will continue until the
beginning of Advent. This time of the liturgical year focuses us on
the work of the Holy Spirit and the Church in light of the
resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The readings will not
always neatly line up together to form a common theme, but the Gospel
and the Old Testament readings will normally support one another.

We now move back to Mark for our
primary Gospel text for the remainder of the Church Year. In doing
so, we move on from the discourse related to the feeding of the 5000
that has occupied our attention for the past month. There are links
in the theme found in these verses with last week’s theme of
foolishness vs. wisdom.

Isaiah 29:11-19: These
verses sound appealing at first glance. We like the idea that the
wicked aren’t going to get away with hiding their evil deeds –
until we stop to think that we are included among the wicked, and
that God is addressing his own people through Isaiah! Then we need
to give pause to what it is really like to have what you firmly
‘know’ to be true, discovered to be completely erroneous. To be
shown that the way you think the world works is not at all the way it
works. The verses in today’s reading follow verses where the Lord
promises great fear and hardship in the form of being attacked by an
enemy army, but then promises that this threat will eventually be
dispelled completely. Not that the fear and hardship won’t be real,
but that God will deliver his people from it ultimately, to their
amazement and his glory. Assuming that the love of God means the
easy life is a dangerous misunderstanding of how committed our God is
to us, and what means He is willing to go to – or what abuses He is
willing to tolerate for the time being – in order that as many as
possible might be saved – to his glory!

Psalm 14: The
universality of foolishness – and the evil that comes from it –
are on display here. The fool claims there is no God, and then we
are told that there is no one who understands – in other words we
are all fools. We are all guilty at various times and in various
ways of acting as though there is no God, regardless of what we claim
with our lips. We are all prone to disingenuosness when it suits our
purposes. The solution to this situation is not a call for moral
reform, not the attempt to legislate proper behavior or demand right
understanding. These things are well beyond our abilities! If we as
individuals are so broken, how can we expect that our collective
efforts can ever be less than broken? The only solution is from God,
not from us. Salvation, deliverance. God issuing forth in power
from his holy city to restore the fortunes of his people and deliver
all people (including his own) from ignorance and evil is the only
way that things will be set right, is truly our only hope.

Ephesians 5:22-33:
Every pastor’s dream and nightmare passage! Guaranteed to throw at
least half the congregation into indignation! What foolishness to
preach such antiquated notions as submissiveness and love defined not
on our terms but on Christ’s! Haven’t we all grown a bit beyond such
notions? Aren’t we all much wiser than that now?

It
can’t be denied that this passage has undoubtedly been abused
publicly and privately for selfish motivations, and yet it stands as
part of the inspired Word of God. Are we offended? Are we
challenged? Are we incensed? How certain is our indignation? How
firm our footing in rejecting this? Or are we called to subvert the
wisdom of our age and seek to be taught by the timeless wisdom of
God? If we assume these verses call us to lives as the recipients or
dispensers of abuse or shame, we are grossly mistaken. These verses
call us to see in marriage a mystical representation of the very love
of Christ! How can we ever see these verses as a call for
self-glorification or the assertion of one will over another?

Mark 7:1-13:
Woohoo!
We get to bash on the Pharisees again! What fun! No need to
examine our own hearts and motivations when we can focus our scorn on
these pompous, pietistic men! I suspect that we need to be very
careful before we assume that we are exempt from similar ridicule,
for identical reasons.

The
Pharisees have good reasons for criticizing Jesus and his disciples.
Their rules exist for good reasons and for good intentions. However
Jesus exposes their adherence to and insistence upon these rules as
ultimately hollow, demands for mechanical obedience without regard
for the true source of uncleanliness – the state of the heart and
mind which cannot be cleansed by the washing of hands or plates.

Once
again Jesus shows his hearers how near-sighted they are, how fixated
they are on externals and temporary issues rather than on the core
issues. Rituals may be all fine and good if they drive us to
recognize the deeper truths which they are intended to embody. But
at the point that they become mechanical, mindless, without thought
or purpose beyond self-perpetuation, they become an obstacle in the
life of faith rather than an aid.

In
how many ways do we do the same thing? In how many ways do we and
the Church of Christ in a larger sense insist on certain rituals and
ways of doing things without regard for the deeper motivations and
purposes? We
must worship this way and not that way. We must worship in a church
building and not a park. We must worship for one hour and no
longer. We must come to worship but Bible study is optional.

The list could undoubtedly go on and on, and at times that list
becomes counterproductive, locking people into a way of thinking and
acting that actually hurts them, rather than facilitates the good
that a well-crafted ritual intends.

Jesus
focuses his hearers (that means you and I, too!) back to the
important issues that are not necessarily so clearly dealt with
through external rituals. Where is our heart, both in following a
given ritual or calling others to follow it? Our difficulty is that
we are more easily foolish rather than wise. Blind obedience to a
ritual or tradition is much easier than engaging ourselves as fully
as possible in the ritual, soas to recognize the intended benefits.
We are too prone to going through the motions, so that when someone
challenges those motions, we quickly attack them for impropriety
rather than pausing to determine whether the challenge is warranted
or not.

Wisdom
is a tricky thing. Just because something seems right or holds true
most of the time doesn’t necessarily mean it is wise. We are called
to place ourselves in obedience to Jesus Christ, trusting that in
doing so, we will be made wise. This may be an uncomfortable process
though, and likely should be uncomfortable. I suspect that if we
feel comfortable with the worldly wisdom we believe Jesus to be
speaking to us, we probably aren’t hearing him fully!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s