Reading Ramblings – September 2, 2012

Technical difficulties this past Sunday morning kept me from completing my ramblings as per usual.  Here they are belatedly (though backdated to Sunday).

Date: September 2, 2012,
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts:
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9; Psalm 119:129-136; Ephesians 6:10-20; Mark
7:14-23

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.

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9:
We are called not just to obedience, but to remembrance of whom we
are obedient to and for what reasons. The benefits of obedience are
not without a source. The people of God didn’t take the Promised
Land for themselves because of their moral superiority, but because
their God gave it to them in spite of their disobedience. This is to
be the focus, the good giving God. We are always to focus on our God
and not on our own behavior, even as we are called to be obedient and
conform our behavior with the way He intends for us to live. We
benefit from this obedience – but those benefits are not to be the
focus or the cause of our obedience. We are obedient because we have
a God who has created us, who has revealed to us the best way to
live, and who ultimately saves us from our inability to live this
way. Certainly this is worthy not only of praise, not only of
obedience, but of passing down the identity and story of this God
from generation to generation!

Psalm 119:129-136: God
and his Word are extolled for their worthiness. Psalm 119 is a
massive Psalm, an elaborate acrostic where each section begins with
the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This section comes under the
Hebrew letter ‘Pe’. Each section in turn dwells on the beauty of
God’s revealed Word. They are to be obeyed because they are
wonderful – not because of the benefits they bestow, although those
are likely to come. Light and understanding are the benefits of
God’s Word, even if the world around us insists on living in the
darkness of its own understanding and law. We require the sustaining
power of God in his Word. It is the source of our hope in the midst
of despair.

Ephesians 6:10-20:
What a famous passage! What beautiful imagery! Although most of
us are not as readily familiar with body armor as a first century
occupied-national might be, most of us have some idea of the purpose
and effectiveness of body armor. Both metaphorically and
practically, we understand that it offers protection but is not
inpenetrable.

I’m going to argue an alternate position on this passage.
This passage is routinely cited to spur Christians on in Godly
living, and that is good. It is also routinely used to stir up
Christians for spiritual warfare, as though somehow we were carrying
the fight to Satan’s allies and subjects. As though you and I as
flesh and blood were somehow battling the spiritual powers around us
in the name of Christ. As though somehow we have been commissioned
in the Lord’s army and our purpose is to fight the battle on his
behalf.

I
disagree. I see in this passage the grace and mercy of our Lord, who
has seen our great weakness and our exceeding vulnerability to the
spiritual powers around us. So He has provided us with armor to
protect us and keep us from these attacks. But our only duty in
wearing this armor and bearing this sword is to stand
firm
.
We are not advancing against the enemy, but rather are holding a
defensive line against him.

Note
how many times the term ‘stand
or variations of that word are used in these verses. We are
protected and therefore we do not flee from Satan, revealing our
weaker, less armored backside. Rather we stand firm with one
another, in the fashion of a Roman infantry flank, where the shield
of one soldier covered and protected the weapon arm of the man next
to him. Strength was in maintaining the defensive line, a literal
shield wall against which the attacks of enemies were thwarted and
broken. Roman soldiers were disciplined to stand firm together in
the face of enemy onslaught, rather than running in fear or seeking
to engage the enemy alone and without support and backup. Discipline
was the key to survival and eventually victory. So it is with the
Christian. We must stand together against the onslaught of Satan,
rather than allowing ourselves to be isolated and picked off one by
one. Our enemy has been defeated – it is not our job to defeat
him. It is rather our duty to stand firm against the remaining,
dwindling powers at his disposal, until the time that the victory
already won in Jesus Christ is fully and completely realized.

Mark 7:14-23:
Jesus
drives home the teaching he began in last week’s Gospel lesson, that
our assumptions about the nature of sin and obedience are clouded and
faulty. We are obsessed with the externals of obedience, forgetting
that obedience begins on the inside
rather than on the outside. If we take great pride in our external
obedience – in our active participation in the things we are
commanded, and our abstinence from the actions that are forbidden, we
are fooling ourselves if we think this means we are fulfilling the
law of God perfectly. Matthew 5 would be a good corollary to the
teachings in Mark 7. Sin is a matter of the heart and mind, not just
the body. We may fool those around us into thinking we are without
sin, but the motivations of our heart and mind are known to God, and
He cannot be fooled.

In
whole the readings point to the importance and value and beauty of
the Word of God which ought to be the rule and norm of our lives. We
often have a negative association with the Law, and sometimes speak
as if the Law no longer has any role in our lives – or that it one
day won’t. But the Law of God is nothing different than the
way God created all things (including us) to function properly
.
Does the Law seem constricting? You have just experienced the
effect of sin and rebellion in your life. We are at heart anarchists
always seeking our own will and leading and chafing under the
‘limitations’ of the Law. But the Law is neither arbitrary nor
restrictive. Rather, it purposes life to the fullest. The Law is
not something that we must deal with until our eventual freedom in
the return of Jesus Christ, for the return of Jesus Christ returns
our ability to keep the Law, not our separation from it! If we are
destined for a new heaven and a new earth, they will be so because
the Law of God will be restored to fullness, with each of us
participating in it fully rather than rebelling against it.

As
such, study of God’s Word today has practical implications for
eternity. We are not biding our time focusing on something that will
one day be rendered irrelevant – we are training ourselves to
appreciate that which we will fully embody one day – God’s Word.
When we begin to see the Law as something that does not condemn us in
Christ, but which we are being trained for conformity to, we grow
closer to becoming the perfect creations of our loving God &
Father.  

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