Reading Ramblings – August 16, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 16, 2015

Texts: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:12-22; Ephesians 5:6-21; John 6:51-69

Context: The alternate reading for this Sunday is the first ten verses of Proverbs 9, a famous passage about Lady Wisdom and her generous offer to share her wisdom with those who most need it. I opted for the Joshua passage instead, as the apologetic tone it offers appeals to me in light of my studies this summer. Jesus calls the people to faithfulness in him but they balk because his teaching is difficult and confusing. Yet this difficult and confusing teaching comes only after these same people listened to him preach and teach for an entire day, then were miraculously fed the previous evening. In other words, Jesus calls these people to faith but not without some evidence, some reason for them to trust his difficult words. They had seen firsthand what He could do, both in terms of teaching and in miracle-working. As such, it is not unreasonable to call them to trust him further, not just for a day’s teaching or an evening’s meal but with their very lives.

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 – At the end of Joshua’s life, after he has taken Moses’ place as leader of God’s chosen people and guided them through the entry into the Promised Land and the various campaigns through which God gave them the land, Joshua summons the people together to charge them to be faithful after his passing. Moses did a similar thing, and it seems clear that both men had a healthy wisdom as to human nature and mankind’s propensity for abandoning God despite the many blessings and clear signs of God’s grace and favor.

So it is that Joshua predicates his call to faithfulness on the events of the past, events that he summarizes himself, and that the people also summarize. Faithfulness is warranted because of the reality of what God has done in human lives and history. This is a tangible apologetic. It is not the ambiguosness of a subjective, emotional state of being. It is not a call to faith based on how people feel, but rather based on the facts. The facts are incontravertible. The Israelites witnessed them and were a part of them. There was no denying the reality of God’s provision for them. Faithfulness was the reasonable response. To turn away from the God who had clearly done all of these things for them would truly be unreasonable – but it would continue to be the hallmark of God’s chosen people.

Psalm 34:12-22 – After starting the psalm as a testimony of God’s faithfulness and deliverance, a series of ethical imperatives are given (vs. 12-14). The speaker is exhorted to keep from speaking evil or deceit, to keep from evil in general, and on the proactive side, to seek good and peace. The initial rationale for this is that these things lead to long life (v.12). Yet this clearly is not an adequate or even guaranteed goal, for the following verses make it clear that God is actively watching over all things and persons. Thus, those that seek to extend their comfortable lives without living the way God intends face retribution, while those who are exploited can trust in God to deliver them (vs. 15-18). Verse 19 provides the axis for the psalm – God’s instructions should lead us to long and prosperous lives, yet because of our own sinfulness and the sinfulness of others, this is not always the case, and sometimes those who live as God would have them instead experience afflictions. But these afflictions do not come from God – God is the deliverer, not the punisher of the righteous.

It is clear that the world is a dangerous and difficult place, yet we are promised that the God who created it will redeem it, and that this God will not forget any of his children, even if they are ground under by the powers that be in the world. God can be relied upon for justice, justice that not even death itself can deny or prevent.

Ephesians 5:6-21 – Paul pauses amidst his exhortations to holy living to acknowledge that for many these are not self-evident maxims. There are plenty of folks who will scoff at prohibitions as a curtailing of personal liberty. After all, who is to know? Who is to judge what consenting adults might choose to do behind locked doors or under cover of darkness? Why deprive yourself of possible pleasures? Do you see God smiting down people left and right for their indulgences and depravities?

Paul’s warning is clear – God does see and know, and there will be consequences for the choices in our lives. Pursuing evil will one day be judged. Followers of Christ are to be wiser than that, and not assume that just because judgment is delayed that judgment is not coming. Besides, the alternative is to live a life that is truly shameful. Obedience is not just a matter of fear, but of truly discerning what is noble and right and following that. This requires wisdom, wisdom that comes from God. The wise follower of Christ will occupy themselves with those activities that are in keeping with what they know to be right and good and true.

John 6:51-69 – The people who sought Jesus out after receiving a miraculous meal the night before are now further challenged. They cannot simply live on bread – Jesus is the bread from heaven upon which they must feed if they hope to live.

Obviously, these words are hard and confusing on the surface. Many people including some of Jesus’ closer followers leave him at this point in his ministry. They can’t make sense of him. But Jesus calls people to trust him and to have faith in him not as an isolated demand but based on what they see and hear and experience. He calls the crowds to trust what He tells them, but only after they have listened to him teaching at length, only after He has miraculously shown them that He can provide for their needs. They might not be able to make sense of his words at the moment – indeed none of his disciples will understand them until after his resurrection. But being willing to trust someone’s words is not unreasonable if you have already been given some good reasons to do so.

We want to grasp and comprehend God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit fully. Yet the very Three-in-One nature of God eludes our comprehension. God is much larger and more powerful than we can possibly conceive of, now or even, I suspect, in eternity. We cannot grasp him with our minds, we can only trust him based on what He has done, how He has revealed his identity and intentions to us in objective human experience and history. We are called to faith today not based on some inner personal whim of experience – though these may be valid and have a definite place in the life of faith! Rather, we are called to faith based on the historical, eye-witness account of Jesus’ predictions and fulfillment of his suffering, death, and resurrection.

We might choose to deny these things because we didn’t see them ourselves, but if that’s our criteria then we have to discount almost everything we have learned about the world and other people. I would need to suspend my belief in Japan simply because I have never been there, and therefore I can’t trust photos and eye-witness accounts of those who have. This might sound silly but it’s just a logical extension and application of the same principle.

We are called to faith today based on the work of God in human history, and specifically because of the death and resurrection of the man who claimed to be the Son of God incarnate. If this becomes myinterpreative lense, I am better able to discern and make sense of God’s movement in my life and in the world today. I will not always understand (or even like!) what God is doing in or around me, but I can resolve to continue to trust him because of his stated intentions for me through his Word and his Word made flesh, Jesus the Christ.


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