Reading Ramblings – August 18, 2013

Reading
Ramblings

Date: August 18th,
2013 – Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Jeremiah 23:16-29; Psalm
119:81-88; Hebrews 11:17-31 (32-40), 12:1-3; Luke 12:49-53(54-56)

Context: The Word of God runs
counter to the ideas of this world so frequently because of the
corruptive power of sin. While the rule of God is built into nature,
there seem to be infinite ways to ignore it, to call it by another
name, or to deny it outright. Whenever we find that the Word of God
is lining up to neatly with our personal or communal preferences, we
need to beware. Especially today, in our culture that preaches
comfort and security, the Word of God is often twisted or muted to
turn God into a giant teddy bear or a jinii in a lamp – a God
dedicated to our personal comfort and short-term happiness rather
than the Creator of the Universe bent on the reconciliation of his
wayward creation, the perfection of his faithful, and the final
punishment of evil. Those who pervert his Word to their ends will
face a reckoning!

Jeremiah 23:16-29: God has
sought to warn his people and their rulers about his coming wrath,
that they might turn from their wickedness and live. But those
claiming to speak in his name lie. They do not speak of wrath but of
comfort and ease. They do not speak of impending danger but of
security. They confuse and drown out the rightful Word of God with
words that people want to hear (and pay to hear). God is not happy
with this, and those who refuse to speak his Word truthfully will be
brought to account.

Having dealt earlier in the chapter
with the shepherds (kings) who lead his sheep astray, God speaks
against those who falsely claim to speak his Word. God warns these
false prophets that they will be called to account, and their false
words will be compared with his true Word. Anyone who takes up the
mantle of speaking God’s Word to God’s people bears a serious burden,
and must take it seriously and faithfully.

Psalm 119:81-88: Psalm 119 is
the longest psalm, an elaborate acrostic with each section starting
with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Each section dwells on the
Word of God, which is the theme of all the psalms. The Word of God
for the psalmist includes the Law of God as we traditionally think of
it, but for us also encompasses all of his divine Gospel revelation,
the Son of God incarnate, crucified, buried, resurrected and
ascended.

In this section the Word of God is
discussed as the source of hope in difficult situations. We hear
crucial words such as “salvation” and “hope” and “promise”
and immediately we think of God’s promised Messiah, Jesus the Christ.
Verse 83 may refer to the blackening of animal skins as they hung in
tents, blackened by the smoke of the indoor fire, and perhaps even
shriveled or contracted if not full of something. The psalmist
complains about those set against him who ignore the Word of God that
the psalmist full well knows is the source of truth and life. The
solution is not to abandon the Word of God, to fight fire with fire,
as it were, but rather to cling to the Word of God precisely because
of the desperation of the situation, because there can be no other
hope of rescue, and because of the promised goodness of God.

Hebrews 11:17-31(32-40), 12:1-3:
Faith can be described as pressing on towards a goal we not only have
not reached but frankly can’t even see the way forwards toward? Were
it a goal we could reach, or had reached already, we would be done
and faith would no longer be needed. But because faith leads us
towards something we have not yet reached, we continue trusting.
Paul lists famous figures from the Old Testament and incidents that
they endured by faith. Each one required them to listen to God
despite the external appearances of things, and despite their own
inability to see how God’s Word made sense or could be accomplished.
Yet even in their faithfulness, they did not fully reach the
destination of faith, which is perfection in God through Jesus
Christ. We cannot confuse the journey with the destination, for we
do have a destination. The journey of faith is necessary to reach
it, but the stops on the journey of faith are not the destination.
We cannot grow tired and simply assume we have come far enough, but
we must always press on in faith, even when we can’t see the point of
it.

Luke 12:49-53(54-56): Peace with
the world is not the goal of the Word of God, but rather the
transformation of the world. Since the world has a usurper in charge
(Satan), the world will resist this transformation. It isn’t that
Jesus is anxious to start a fight, but rather the fight has already
started and his presence and work in this world will not immediately
end the fight but rather escalate it and make it more apparent.

This is the nature of the Scriptural
witness to Jesus of Nazareth. It demands a response, it demands a
reaction. One might treat the Ten Commandments as the equivalent of
the Hindu Vedas or the alleged teachings of Buddha, as just another
opinion on a good way to live life. There are those that seek to do
this with Jesus as well, but they can’t, because Jesus never gives us
that option. He never allows us to stop short, to listen to his
teachings without also being drawn towards his actions – most
importantly and singularly his death and resurrection. The person of
Jesus of Nazareth demands that every person either receive him as the
Son of God, the promised Messiah/Christ, or dismiss him as an evil
fraud or a deluded mad man. There is no middle ground. There can no
longer be any neutral ground.

So important is this matter that
(unfortunately!) it will divide even those who should be closest.
Again, it is not that God desires and instigates conflict and
division. Rather, these things already exist because of sin. In the
person and work of Jesus Christ that sin is clearly named, and the
antidote to it clearly revealed. The battle that has been going on
under the surface between the way of God and the way of man is
unmasked and revealed, and requires that everyone place themselves on
one side or another. Those who seek a middle ground have not clearly
heard the Gospel, and remain clouded and blinded by sin.

The Christian must not shrink from the
difficult task of calling sin out for what it is, while immediately
following that declaration with the proclamation of hope in Jesus
Christ. Failure in either respect will leave the hearer dangerously
confused and ultimately may keep them from placing their faith in
Jesus Christ. Either we are all mortally wounded by sin, terminally
infected by this insidious disease that is wrapped through us more
intimately than our DNA, or we are not. Either we are all in need of
a savior, a physician capable of healing our wound, of drawing out
the poison of disease, or not. There is no in between.

We shouldn’t be surprised that this
message draws us into conflict with the world. We shouldn’t be
surprised that what ought to be good news and hope is treated with
derision and contempt. But we should never stop proclaiming the Good
News, so that as many as possible might hear it, and so that the Holy
Spirit might bring as many as possible into faith.  

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