Reading Ramblings – July 12, 2015

* * * My apologies for being late with this!  * * *

Reading Ramblings

Date: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 12th, 2015

Texts: Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:1-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

Context: The Good News of God at work in creation is often tempered by the bad news of how creation views such activity. The Old Testament and Gospel lessons depict this reality. Amos faces exile for preaching about God’s temporal judgment against the house of Jeroboam. Jesus, prior to the Gospel reading for this morning, is rejected by the residents of his home-town, Nazareth. The Gospel lesson focuses on the fate of John the Baptist. In light of such events, we might be prone to despair. What is our response? We cry out to God for deliverance as at the beginning of the psalm. But more than that, we are to actively place our faith and trust in God, as the second half of the psalm leads us to. That faith and trust is not simply for our physical preservation or economic improvement, but faith and trust that whether we suffer here and now or not, our ultimate hope is in the resurrection promised to us in the resurrection of Jesus the Son of God!

Amos 7:7-15 – Amos preaches a bleak picture of Israel’s future. Not as bleak as it could be though! Two possible destructions are prepared in vs.1-6 – destruction by famine and destruction by massive heavenly fire. Amos protests each of these as too massive – God’s nation of Israel (here defined as the northern kingdom, as opposed to the southern kingdom of Judea) – will not be able to survive. God relents from his plans based on Amos’ protests. Instead God posits a limited destruction that will lay waste the northern sacred worship sites (including Bethel), and destroy the royal house of Jeroboam.

For sharing this vision Amos is castigated by Jeroboam and exiled to Judea. Amos responds that he has not taken it upon himself to come and talk to the king. He is not a professional prophet, yet God chose him to bear his message. The implication is that Jeroboam should take seriously Amos’ words, as Amos has absolutely no personal reasons for trying to frighten the king. He bears the Word of God, and it is perhaps his rough and uneducated exterior that should further convince the king of the truth in Amos’ words.

Psalm 85:1-13 – I think that reading this psalm in full is better than reading just the second half, which is what the lectionary specified. The first half of the psalm is a cry for mercy, for God to relent from his judgment and punishment. The second half is an assertion that God indeed will be merciful, He will relent. How can such an assertion be reasonably made? As Christians we would say that such an assertion can be made based on the Incarnation of the Son of God, and his death and resurrection on our behalf. For the hearer’s in the days of the psalms composition, I would hope that such an assertion was based both on the delivering acts of God in the history of his people, as well as in the promise of God to Eve in Genesis 3:15. We trust in God’s handling of our future based on his handling of his people in the past, and most significantly in his willingness to send his Son to suffer at our hands for our benefit.

Ephesians 1:3-14 – Don’t presume that the language in the first two verses is exclusive. We hear the terms chose and predestined and may be inclined to assume that this implies that there are those who are not chosen and not predestined. This is reading in meaning that is not only not logically required, it contradicts the scope of Scripture in general. God the Father’s intention is that all should be adopted as sons (and daughters) in Christ. The purpose in this is the glory of God the Father (vs. 3, 6). He does this to our benefit, but it is according to his plan. He sets the terms, not us. The plan is for the reunification of heaven and earth in the fullest and most perfect sense of the phrase (v.11).

Mark 6:14-29 – This is a powerful section. Yes, it describes the fate of John the Baptist. But it also describes the cultural background of Jesus’ ministry. John is arrested for two reasons. First, because he offends King Herod’s wife, Herodias by preaching that her marriage to Herod was unlawful by Jewish standards because she had been previously married to Herod’s brother, Philip. However Mark makes clear that John’s arrest is also an effort by Herod to protect John, because Herodias wants him dead (6:19-20). But good intentions are not adequate, and in a moment of vanity (probably amplified by drunkenness and perhaps lust) Herod makes a promise that affords Herodias her opportunity to have John killed.

Jesus responds to this news with sorrow (Matthew 14:13; Mark 6:30-32). Chapter six as a whole is curious as it describes first Jesus’ rejection in his hometown of Nazareth, and later includes the description of the circumstances of John the Baptist’s death. But between these two sections Jesus sends his disciples out on their first mission journey. And following the account of John’s execution, we see Jesus very publicly teaching and working miracles.

We likely have run into some sort of negativity to the Gospel in our lives. And many Christians know all too well the painfulness of loved ones who ridicule or refuse the Gospel and the bearer of the good news. This can be devastating – both personally as well as in the anguish that remains in the believer for those they love that do not place their faith in Jesus Christ.

However, the power and promise of God in creation continues regardless of the negativity or outright opposition of the world. While rejection and ridicule, even to martyrdom itself, is never to be sought out or desired, yet it remains a very real possibility to the believer in Jesus Christ. But the Good News must continue to go out into the world, regardless of our own fears of how it will be received or what might happen to us as message-bearers. The truth of the Gospel does not lie in how it is accepted or the earnestness (or inability) of the messengers. It lies in the historical reality of the man who claimed to be God, and purported that the proof of this claim would be evidenced in his betrayal, abuse, execution, and subsequent resurrection. Therefore, we have hope! We look forward to the future beyond whatever blessings or sufferings we must endure here and now. We do so not as wishful thinkers but as serious believers in objective truth embodied in human history.

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