Reading Ramblings – August 2, 2015

* * * * * My apologies for being late with this, due to a fantastic and much needed vacation! * * * * * 

Reading Ramblings

Date: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 2, 2015

Texts: Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 145:10-21; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:22-35

Context: How often is it that we pray to God (or, in some cases, don’t pray to God), and God responds to our situation and our needs? How often is it that even as He responds, we are blind to his action, failing to see it as his providential love and care? How often do we receive his blessings and, so excited in the moment, lose sight of the greatest blessing of all we have been given – forgiveness and grace and peace and joy and hope in Jesus Christ? God has given us what we need most in his Son, and though He is pleased often to bless us in many other ways, we must receive his answers to our prayers in light of our greatest need He has already fulfilled.

Exodus 16:2-15 – The assigned reading skips the fact that the Israelites are grumbling to and about Moses and Aaron. It is interesting to note that this is the third time that the Israelites have complained (14:11-12, 15:24), and the second time they have looked back with fondness on their slavery in Egypt. It is also curious that they consider themselves so hard pressed, when Exodus 12:38 indicates that they brought out of Egypt a great number of livestock. No indication has been given that they have exhausted these resources. Does this mean that the Israelites are not willing to eat their animals to survive? Are there complaints grounded at one level in greed and an unwillingness to share what they already have? Granted, life in the desert was undoubtedly hard, but was it any harder than the threat of their children being murdered in childbirth (1:22)?

Perhaps we too are easily motivated by our desire for personal security and wealth and health. The life-long blessings of God are forgotten the moment we become uncomfortable or uncertain. Our deliverance from the death of sin and rebellion against God pales momentarily as we face personal suffering on a new level. God often responds in amazing ways to our discomfort and our uncertainty, but most completely and most compelling, He calls us to remember the blessing He has already given us in his Son. We may suffer – for we are sinful people in a sinful world! – but we suffer as those who have hope! We suffer knowing that our suffering will have an end, and that end will be filled with such great joy as we are insufficient to even recognize it for what it is.

Psalm 145:10-21 – This psalm from beginning to end is a call to praise and worship of our God for his many wondrous attributes. This is the purpose of history as we know it, that God might be praised for his goodness, goodness often made all the more striking in contrast to our own evil. Verses 15-16 might be a backward glance at the Lord’s work in Exodus 16, providing food to his people. But they are also a true affirmation of God’s continued goodness, poured out upon an ungrateful creation that receives his bounty and then turns it all too often to our own selfish, greedy ends, so that people suffer and starve though there is more than enough food and water for us all. God is to be praised not merely for all that He has done and continues to do, but for what He will do, including his ultimate banishment of evil (v.20). We may sometimes chafe impatiently at the Lord’s timing, but we should never doubt the glorious destination He is leading his creation towards.

Ephesians 4:1-6 – Based on God’s blessings which Paul has prayed for the Ephesians in 3:14-21, Paul exhorts the Ephesians to live as those who have indeed received such blessings! Here Paul’s emphasis is not on morality as we are apt to think of it, but particularly how they interact with one another. In other words, the Church can be a dangerous place because it is full of sinful people. Yet these sinful people are, because of the outpourin of God’s blessings, to be people intentionally seeking to live in a certain way with one another. Humble. Gentle. Patient. Lifting up one another in love. Seeking unity and peace. All of this is desirable and possible – to a certain extent – because we truly are one in Christ. We acknowledge the same Lord. We confess the same faith. We are marked into the body of Christ with one baptism. It is by his power that we are both to seek and expect to grow in these traits.

This admonition should encourage us as brothers and sisters in Christ in each of our communities of faith – our families, our congregations, and our denominations – to seek common ground and unity with one another and between families, congregations, and denominations.

John 6:22-35 – The crowds follow Jesus because He filled their bellies, but Jesus points them to greater concerns than the needs of the day. They eagerly pick up on his choice of words – work. Ah – this is what we want! Tell us what to do so we can do it! We are ever a species enamored with the law, even though it crushes our attempts to fulfill it!

Jesus doesn’t point them to the Ten Commandments or some set of ethical imperatives. The only work for us to do is to believe the one whom God has sent – Jesus himself. But even this work is difficult. Immediately the crowd wants signs, they want demonstrative proof that they are to believe in Jesus. Just as the Israelites grumbled against the one God had sent to deliver them – Moses – so the people looking for Jesus immediately want signs. Never mind that God had freed the Israelites from slavery with mighty acts and wonders! Never mind that Jesus had filled thousands of bellies the previous evening out of almost nothing! The problem with signs and wonders is that they are rarely enough for long. We are always in search of something new and exciting.

God is the giver of all things. He gave his people Moses. He gave them manna in the wilderness. He gave them Jesus. He gave them a full belly at the end of a long day of listening to Jesus teach. He gave them his Word, that prophesied the coming of God’s perfect suffering servant who would end up dying for God’s people and yet providing life in his death. You and I have God’s continued word in the New Testament, pointing us to the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies, to the death and resurrection of God’s own Son. We are not to seek new signs and wonders, but to put our faith and trust in what God has already done – demonstrated victory over our greatest enemy – death, and therefore the sin and evil Satan that have consigned us to death.

Some may think that this sign is inadequate. They want something new, something now, something personal. Yet how many of us have experienced amazing things in our lives, convinced in the moment of God’s existence and divine provisioning for us – only to have that certainty eroded over hours and days and years, until we cannot remember, and if we remember we are less apt to assign the same significance that we did in the heat of the moment?

Instead, God provides us with evidence that is not, strictly speaking, personal. It is historic. It is geographical. It is social. It occurs not in our own private experience but with hundreds of eye-witnesses. It is attested to not simply with our own personal account, but with four eyewitness accounts – two of which are conveyed directly by the eyewitnesses themselves. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead according to his own prophesy is a historical event that 2000 years of active and intense cross-examination have failed to discredit. Our faith is based not on what Jesus does (or does not do) for me today, but what Jesus has done on the cross and outside the empty tomb. I may doubt myself. It is harder to doubt the historical witness when we are by nature groomed to take historical witness very seriously!

Take heart and trust the promises of the one God has sent – Jesus the Son of God. Don’t just take his word for it, base your faith on his resurrection!

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