Reading Rambling – January 25, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday after the Epiphany – January 25, 2015

Texts: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31(32-35); Mark 1:14-20

Context: The Word of God is powerful. It can do things that we otherwise would deem impossible. It can convert entire cities from sinfulness to Godly repentance. It can create disciples out of ordinary people. It is this same Word that has called you and I, created us in the likeness of Jesus the Christ through the power of baptism and faith created by God the Holy Spirit himself. We should anticipate and rely on the Word of God as the power for our lives, and the power to work in others’ lives as well.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 – Jonah eventually obeys the voice of God telling him to preach repentance to Nineveh. Nineveh is the capital of the Assyrian empire, an enemy state of the people of God. Jonah is reluctant to bring the Gospel to these people, whom he would much rather see destroyed. Jonah trusts that the power of Gods’ Word is enough to change even the hardest hearts – and his trust is not misplaced. The city repents, from the king to the lowest person, and God responds in faithfulness to his promise, sparing the city from destruction.

Psalm 62 – The Word of God that can convert a city from evil to repentance is the same power that you and I lean on each day through the trials and tribulations of the world. How God will act in our lives we cannot predict, but we know that He is at work. The machinations of the world and evil people in it (vs. 3-4) that seek to grind us under are of no use against this Word. The estimations of the world, the means we are taught to gauge ourselves and one another are equally transitory and arbitrary (vs. 9-10). The only sure source of wisdom and life is the Word of God.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31(32-35) – Since we are in Ordinary Time officially, this reading does not have anything specific to do with the Gospel and Old Testament lessons. Rather, for these four weeks between Epiphany and Lent, the Epistle lesson is drawn from 1 Corinthians as part of the historic church practice of lectio continua – reading through large sections of Scripture more or less systematically.

The content of today’s reading is fascinating. It comes from a passage where Paul is addressing questions the Corinthians apparently had about marriage. Should Christians marry or remain single? Should those who come to faith divorce their spouse if their spouse will not convert? Paul seeks to be practical here, dealing with real questions of how we live out our lives of faithfulness.

Paul begins (or continues) in verse 29 by reminding his hearers that our time here is short. Paul may have expected Jesus to return in very short order, but his admonitions about how to prioritize our lives remain helpful even 2000 years later. What is to be our focus? Our focus is to be on our Lord and Savior, first and foremost. Towards that end, anything that would divert us away from that focus must be understood to be second – even a distant second. This may sound harsh, but seems to be in keeping with Jesus’ teaching (Luke 14:26, for example). Jesus makes it clear that we have to keep our priorities straight. Does Jesus advocate abandoning our family ties? Is that what Paul wants? Of course not! Paul has just written in the previous verses (vs.10-16) about fidelity in the marital vows.

But at the same time we need to remember that these relationships are always at risk of drawing us away from Christ. We must keep our priorities straight, because we do not know the day or hour of our Lord’s return. In the extended reading, Paul elaborates that these relationships naturally will divide our attentions, and not without validity. Paul praises the focus that is possible without family ties, though of course it is just as possible to be just as distracted as a single person than as a married person.

Mark 1:14-20 – Jesus begins his formal ministry after successfully enduring faithfully the temptations of Satan in the wilderness following his baptism. Jesus is now empowered by the Holy Spirit to begin preaching, and He does so. John the Baptist called the people to repentance, Jesus calls them specifically to repentance in the light of the nearness of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that is present in the person and work of the Son of God.

Jesus speaks, and these men respond. The Word of God is at work in their lives, transforming their vocations from workmen to disciples. This is likely not the first time that Jesus has met these people. The opening chapter of John’s Gospel (vs.35-51) has Jesus speaking with a variety of people in the Jordan River valley and in the area around Jerusalem. Having met his future disciples first there, He later calls them formally to become disciples later, after they have all returned to Galilee.

Jesus does not call these men because of their worthiness to become disciples. The fact that they all have jobs indicates that they were not found to be capable of (or interested in) advanced training as a scribe or other profession associated with their faith. Jesus calls them for reasons ultimately only known to him – but his call is efficacious. These men do become disciples. They become capable and worthy because of the Word that called them. In very practical ways they cease to be what they once were, and become Apostles.

God the Holy Spirit continues to call people to faith in Jesus as the Son of God. That call works faith where once there was only spiritual blindness or death. Called to faith, we become children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ. We become these things not by our own efforts or worthiness, but because the Word of God declares us to be such in the waters of baptism. This is what we cling to. I may not know much about myself, but I trust that God has no such challenges. He knows me thoroughly, and his call on my life is not to be doubted.

If I doubt my faith, if I doubt my worthiness (understandably!), if I begin to wonder if I’m not just lying to myself about all these things I don’t really understand, I fall back on the promise of the Word of God. He has hold of me. He will not let me go. If I will simply rest and trust in his promise, I am secure in my faith. My eyes need to constantly be on the Word of God made flesh, not my particular level of holiness or sanctity or goodness at any given point during the day. Such a focus on myself will quickly lead me to question and despair of my identity. But by focusing on the Word of God who has called me and created faith in me, I can rest assured. Satan may raise many valid questions about my worthiness to be called a child of God, but He cannot countermand the Word of God that has made me such.

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