Reading Ramblings – 9/30/12

Reading Ramblings
Date: September 23, 2012 – 18th
Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29;
Psalm 104:27-35; James 51-12)13-20; Mark 9:38-50

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.

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29:
The verses are selected to consolidate several different issues into
a manageable reading. The main focus is on the outpouring of the
Holy Spirit onto 70 Israelite elders. Far from being jealous of his
power and position, Moses is only too happy to have the Lord share
his Spirit with these men so that they can help Moses in leading.
Additionally, Moses re-emphasizes that he is not jealous of this
shared Spirit – quite the contrary! He’d rather that all God’s
people received the Holy Spirit of God, rather than guard and hoard
that Spirit for himself. How unlike us this often is – how jealous
and possessive we can be of our titles, our accomplishments, our
wealth, our pride, our belongings, and even of our God. Yet we are
not impoverished as the Spirit of God is poured out on others! The
power and presence of God is more than ample for everyone to enjoy
it – we don’t need to try and keep it all to ourselves!

Psalm 104:27-35: This is
a psalm of praise, the early verses recounting various of the Lord’s
mighty acts for which He deserves to be praised. The verses for
today focus on our response – we live and trust in the Lord’s
provision. From him we receive life itself, and He alone determines
when it is time for us to die. The effect of God’s outpoured Spirit
(v.30) is rather interesting – those creatures that died and
returned to dust are able to live again. There is nothing that can
be taken from God’s creatures – including the breath of life
itself, that God is not able to restore according to his plan and
purpose. We should see ourselves in this context, trusting in our
creator God the Father and redemptor God the Son and ever-present God
the Holy Spirit to sustain us in all of life’s conditions and
situations.

James 51-12)13-20:
James continues his very practical discussion about how Christians
are to live. The first six verses of this chapter are a strict
admonition to those who are wealthy, and in particular to those who
misuse their wealth for self-indulgence and to defraud others. Those
who value their money over their fellow human beings are going to
find things very uncomfortable on the Day of Judgment. However, as
verses 7-12 make clear, it is not the role of the abused and
dispossessed to take what is their rightful due. Rather, they are
to be patient, trusting God to restore them and to undo the wrongs
they have suffered. Rather than grumbling, or by taking the Lord’s
name in vain, we are to bless even those who wrong us.

More to the point, as verses 13-20 pick
up on, we are to be in prayer constantly, for all situations. Such
prayer can bring physical healing and forgiveness of sins. But note
that this is communal prayer, it assumes that the believer is with
other believers. The focus is to submit ourselves for others to pray
for, as well as to be active in praying for others. In doing so we
receive the blessings of God. Likewise, since the believer is part
of a praying community, it will be easy for the community to stand
with one in their midst who has abandoned or lost God’s truth, and
speak in love and power to that person to restore them to a right way of living before their God.  Needless to say, this prickly aspect of life in the body of Christ, the issue of discipline, is one that many churches (and pastors) are extremely uncomfortable with.  

But James is very clear – the point of discipline is the restoration of the wandering brother or sister, which can have eternal consequences.  The modern notion that it is somehow unloving to call someone away from dangerous and unhealthy activity denotes a warped understanding of free will and individualism.  Discipline is a necessary step for the brother or sister who is becoming lost and misled in their sin.  

Mark 9:38-50: The
Gospel lesson for today picks up on echoes of the Old Testament
reading. Once again the faithful are jealous of the power they
possess, and seek to prevent others from appropriating it. But Jesus
makes it clear that whether someone is in the inner circle of his
followers or not, the use of the name of Jesus the Son of God – and
the power that flows from that use – will demonstrate whether or
not the person invoking Jesus’ name is doing so faithfully. The one
that calls on the name of Jesus for power to save or heal, and who
receives what they have asked for, will find it difficult to switch
gears in order to act against the name of Jesus.  

This verse also makes it clear that the name of Jesus is not a magical incantation that grants the invoker power arbitrarily.  Power – particularly power claimed in the name of Jesus – has a source that is outside the person making the invocation.  If someone is performing wonders in Jesus’ name, then we should be able to trust that the source of that power is the Holy Spirit.  Wonder workers who invoke any other name, or fail to invoke the name of Jesus, or who rely on less specific terms such as ‘god’, may be evidencing power from evil sources rather than God.  We must be wise and discerning both in whom we call upon and who we trust for power.  

But to the contrary, if our actions are
sinful, we need to take seriously the impact that sin can have on us.
So serious is sin that Jesus somewhat exaggerates (or does he?), admonishing his
followers that, rather than sin, they should be willing to rid
themselves of their offending members. A hand or a foot or an eye is
a small price to pay to try and eliminate persistent, growing sin in
our lives. While the Church has never taught that this should be
followed literally (which I wonder about, frankly), Jesus’ exaggerated speech should give us pause to
think. Sin is a serious issue. When we begin to make peace with the
sin in our bodies, we risk that both body and soul should be lost in
eternal separation from God.

As such, we should be ruthless in our
confession, seeking to be directed to those areas of our lives that
are sinful and in need of change.  A time of confession and absolution in worship is crucial for reminding us that we are sinful, and that if not for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our sin would separate us eternally from God the Father.  Confession is good for the soul in both the psychological and spiritual sense, I believe, and we should not view it as lightly as we often do.  We who possess the Holy Spirit of
God that dwelt with Moses and the 70 elders need to take seriously
God’s call to live consistently with this indwelling presence.

Rather than worrying about greatness,
we ought to be worried about sin. If we spent less time determining whether or not we’re better than the person next to us, and more time in honest prayer and confession and thanksgiving for the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ, what might our lives look like?

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