Reading Ramblings – September 15, 2013

Reading
Ramblings

Date: September 15th,
2013 – Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Ezekiel 34:11-24; Psalm
119:169-176; 1Timothy 15-11)12-17; Luke 15:1-10

Context: Last week’s readings
led us to consider the cost that Christian discipleship will involve.
Nothing else in our lives or world can take priority over obedience
to our God, which is love. The result will be suffering. The powers
of the world do not accept lightly being declared what they are –
bankrupt of value and meaning and purpose compared to God’s great
plan of rescue for all creation. Suffering of one sort or another
will be inevitable.

But God does not forget about us in our
suffering. We are not important to him only so long as we are strong
and beautiful and young and vibrant and confident and untouched. He
loves us once life and the world have covered us with scars and
blemishes inside and out. He seeks after us constantly. He is not
content to let us simply wander off in shock or confusion. The Good
Shepherd is good precisely because his love is equally strong,
committed, and capable of looking after every single sheep in his
flock.

Ezekiel 34:11-24: The shepherds
(kings) entrusted to caring for God’s people have failed in their
duties. They have sought their own benefit and ease at the expense
of God’s people. They have fattened themselves while God’s people
grow lean with hunger. They enrich themselves while God’s people
suffer in poverty. When kings and leaders are corrupt and
self-seeking, who is it that can save the people?

God himself. God will come for his
people and to his people. He will search, look, rescue, bring them
out, gather, pasture, tend, bind up, strengthen, and shepherd with
justice. He will do what human rulers cannot and will not. Our hope
is in the Lord alone, because the Lord alone is this committed to
every part of his creation.

Those who have grown strong and sleek
from shoving aside their weaker brothers and sisters will be held to
account and judged. Those who have harmed for their own benefit will
be judged. Those who excel in the world’s standards will be reminded
that the world’s standards are steeped in sin. God will not be
swayed by the physical perfection, the beauty that so often rides
roughshod over the ordinary in our world.

Psalm 119: The concluding
section of this longest psalm falls under the Hebrew letter we would
translate as “T” (remember, Psalm 119 is one long anagram, with a
section of eight verses assigned to every letter of the Hebrew
alphabet. What struck me in reading this section is the emphasis on
the Word of God. We cannot hope to know God if we don’t know his
Word. We cannot hope to obey God if we don’t know his Word. We
cannot hope to love our neighbors if we don’t know his Word. It is
popular in many Christian circles to decry the cold emphasis on
doctrine and sound teaching, instead elevating a vague ‘love for God’
as the better emphasis of the Christian life. But the study of God’s
Word, the source and norm of our doctrines and truth, is indeed the
emphasis of love itself! We cannot separate the two. If we believe
that we can mature as Christians without knowledge of God’s Word, we
are in dangerous error.

1 Timothy 15-11)12-17: This
week, the reading really should begin at verse 3, as this provides
the correct context for what Paul is talking about in verse 5 and
beyond. It is necessary for Christians to know the Word of God as
the basis for our beliefs about what is right and true – our
doctrines. We cannot pretend that we can be Christians for very long
if we separate ourselves from the Word of God and the doctrines that
derive from it. The Word is our anchor, our baseline, our firm rock
to which we cling. Our emotional states may vary widely. Our
personal life experiences run the gamut of awful to wonderful. Our
minds are easily swayed or confused. Only the Word can save us with
the unchanging truth of God’s revelation. This is our only source of
hope and comfort. It is not our personal lives even that matter,
because the power of God through his Word can change our lives,
reforming them to his purpose and work as surely as the Word of God
appeared to Saul on that road to Damascus and changed his heart
completely. Nobody is safe from the Word of God – and for that we
should give God thanks and praise, and never stop our prayers for
those who have not or will not hear it yet.

Luke 15:1-10: Once again, as
with the Psalm and the reading from Ezekiel, the emphasis is on the
unceasing search of God for every one of his lost creatures. We
can’t hope to come close to this dedication. Congregations ebb and
flow in their size and vibrancy. It’s easy for us to write off or
ignore those who drift away for one reason or another. After a
while, we quit calling, quit asking. We don’t want to be pushy or
rude – or rejected.

God has no such qualms. He will not
allow our personal feelings to stand in the way of his pursuit for
us, and He who became sin on the cross for us has no fear of
rejection. There are never enough people in the Kingdom. There is
always room for another, another has always been intended to be a
part of it. In our emphasis all too often on numbers and statistics
and spreadsheets and the necessary work of a congregation, we must
never lose sight of the eternal joy of a single lost soul found,
baptized, redeemed. We must remember that we exist to receive these
lost sheep that the Good Shepherd finds through various means and
persons. And we must always remember that we, too, were lost sheep,
even if we can’t remember such a time.   

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