Reading Ramblings: February 24, 2013


24, 2013

Date: February 24, 2013, Second
Sunday in Lent

Texts: Jeremiah 26:8-15; Psalm 4;
Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

Context: As the second
Sunday in Lent, the readings lead us to consider that being followers
of Christ may not always be a beneficial, socially acceptable, safe
identity. The readings call us to remember that our purpose as
followers of Christ is to serve as we are called. This is not always
a pleasant and enjoyable task. While many of us have been blessed to
embarrassment, we live in fear that God will call us to discomfort.
The American heresy of Prosperity Gospel promises just the opposite –
a life of ease and joy and health through faith in Jesus Christ. Our
passages today remind us that we are the Lord’s servants, and we are
bound to obey. If this means suffering, we are to accept it and
trust in the Lord who has sent us into it. He has already promised
our deliverance in Jesus Christ – not necessarily on our terms, but
on the far stronger and more reliable terms that He has promised
through the Resurrection!

Jeremiah 26:8-15: The
Word of God is always good, but not always pleasant. Jeremiah is
instructed to convey the Word of the Lord to the people of God. They
believe they already know what God has to say to them, and they are
offended at Jeremiah’s stark and contrasting word. How dare he
prophesy against the city and people of God?! Isn’t it ironic in
this passage that those who should know the Word and will of God the
best – the priests and prophets – are calling for Jeremiah’s
death, while the soldiers and officials who hear him recognize the
Word of God! Notice also that the Word Jeremiah speaks is ultimately
one of hope and promise, yet all the priests and prophets can hear is
the threat of destruction if they don’t listen. People love to hear
that God loves them, but they are offended if God has a critical word
to speak to them. When God pushes us beyond our comfort level, or
calls our actions sinful, we are likely to take just as great offense
as the priests and prophets. But we should always be listening for
the promise and hope offered in that same Word that demands

Psalm 4: In light of the
Jeremiah passage, it is easy to envision these words being spoken by
Jeremiah himself, or some other long-suffering servant of the Lord.
The speaker wishes that others would return to the true God rather
than chasing idols, and hints that he suffers because he is a servant
of the true God. Because of this, he knows that God hears him,
unlike the idols that others chase after. They seek prosperity and
pursue whatever god seems poised to give it to them. Yet the
faithful servant of the Lord doesn’t worry about this. He
acknowledges God as the source of his safety and therefore the peace
in which he can fall asleep at night.

Philippians 3:17-4:1:
This would be a relatively innocuous exhortation, were it not for the
fact that Paul is imprisoned, and as such makes for an unlikely role
model! True, Paul is not exhorting the Philippians to copy his
imprisonment, but rather the style of Christian life that he has been
describing earlier in chapter 3. His warning is sobering though: we
face not just an indifferent world, but a world where some are active
enemies of the cross. As enemies of Christ, they stand as enemies to
the people of God, and we can expect to suffer in some respect
because of them. We take comfort in the fact that whatever they do,
ultimately they are subject to the control of God (v.21). Their evil
will not go unchecked forever. As such, we should stand firm (v.4:1)
in the hope we have in Jesus Christ, even if, for a time, that hope
is obscured somewhat by the evil of the world around us.

Luke 13:31-35:   This section follows some harsh words
from Jesus, including some not so subtle hints that the folks who
think they are a shoe-in for heaven might be in for a rude surprise
on judgment day.

So it may not be incredibly accurate
when the Pharisees suggest that Jesus should leave because of the
threat Herod poses. Jesus doesn’t seem too worried about Herod
either. What He does seem to understand is that Jerusalem – and
the religious leaders that call her home – has a long history of
slaughtering her own prophets. The Pharisees want to warn Jesus
about Herod (ostensibly), but Jesus reminds the Pharisees who the
real threat is to the one who speaks the Word of God – the people
of God.

What does this mean for us in Lent?
Does God want his people to suffer? Does He somehow delight in our
suffering? By no means! God is a God of love, and does not take joy
in the suffering of his creation.

It is for precisely that reason that
while God does not desire his children to suffer, He will sometimes
allow – or command – that they do. Suffering for the Christian
is not senseless in that nothing happens beyond the permission or
will of God, and we trust that in any suffering is an opportunity as
well for witness. I am fond of saying that the most persuasive
difference between Christians and other people is in how we suffer.
Do we suffer in the trust and knowledge of a loving God who loves us
even as He allows us to suffer? Or do we view suffering as somehow
beneath us, or as ourselves as somehow exempt from suffering?

Lent invites us to consider not just
our own suffering or the suffering of those around us, but the
suffering of Jesus on behalf of his creation. Jesus enters into
suffering out of obedience to God the Father, and despite plenty of
opportunities to escape or avoid it, continues onwards through it,
confident that regardless of how the world views his situation or
predicament, his ultimate strength and vindication will come from his
heavenly Father.

This would seem a powerful example for
us to follow. May we pray not simply to avoid suffering, but pray
that we may be faithful in it and ultimately through it, to the glory
of God the Father!

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