Reading Ramblings – October 25, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost – October 25, 2015 – Reformation Sunday Observed

Readings: Revelation 14:6-7; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36

Context: This is Reformation Sunday observed, since next Sunday, November 1, is All Saints Day. Observation of Reformation Sunday is a joyous occasion in Lutheran circles, but I maintain that it should also be a day tinged with sorrow and hope. We rejoice that the fullness of the Gospel was restored through the work of the Reformers (as well as those who came before them in this effort but were cut down for their position). But we are also sorrowful that the restoration of Christ’s Good News came as such devastating bad news for his bride, the Church. We do not rejoice in schism or separation, but our hearts and prayers should be directed towards the reunification of God’s people around the Gospel. This is what we look for ultimately in the day of our Lord’s return, but in every way possible, we should seek such unity in the faith here and now each day. While out of honesty and respect we cannot worship with one another and receive the Sacraments with one another (since different denominations preach differently about these things), we can and should work together in other ways so that the Good News continues to be shared with our world.

Revelation 14:6-7 – The Gospel is eternal. It has always been and will always be. It may be muffled from age to age, but it will be proclaimed at all times not simply by Christians but by the very messengers of God. The Gospel is for all people – none are excluded. It calls us to right understanding and relationship with God the Father solely through the atoning work of God the Son, Jesus. The Gospel is proclaimed. It is not added to, augmented, expanded upon, nor does it require anything more from us. In receiving it, we are called to a posture of worship and glorification of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Psalm 46 – The words of this psalm form the basis for the famous Reformation hymn, A Mighty Fortress, penned by Martin Luther. Indeed, the earliest title for this hymn might have included the Psalm by name. God is the source of strength in all situations. No matter what we face – even the apparent destruction of the world around us, we can trust in our God to hold us in his hands and bring us into his presence. While our world is broken and prone to calamity, the kingdom we look forward to is not (vs.4-5). Our lot in life may now be uncertainty and even certain death, but we look forward to a life without such threats. The kingdoms of the earth that hold so much power and sway over the lives of so many people have no power compared to God. Their efforts to destroy one another and even to war against him will ultimately be futile and completely dismantled. No opposition will remain one day to God’s rule, and we as his children through faith in his Son look forward to an eternity of peace and joy. Note the exclusive emphasis of this passage on God’s work!

Romans 3:19-28 – Paul’s glorious summary of the nature of grace through faith. Having already demonstrated how neither God’s chosen people the Jews nor any other people have been obedient and faithful to God and thus deserving of his reward and love, Paul summarizes Biblical theology – which he will shortly expound upon and illustrate from the Bible – that God’s intent is not that we earn his love, but that we receive his love as a free gift, fully separate and unrelated from our ability to fulfill the Law.

The Law of God applies to all people (just as the Gospel does in the reading from Revelation). Nobody is free of it, nobody can claim it does not apply to them. It condemns all equally, in that all violate the Law to some degree. Nobody can claim that God owes them his love and goodness on account of their perfect fulfillment of the law (vs.19-20).

This should dismay us, because Paul has already stated in 1:18 that the wrath of God is even now being poured out on those who fail to observe his holy Law. So it is good news that a new way of righteousness is revealed. But it is not our righteousness, but God’s. It is conveyed to us through faith in the Son of God incarnate, Jesus the Christ. Nobody is exempt from God’s plan of salvation in Jesus. All have sinned. All are in need of redemption. All receive that redemption by acknowledging that this is what God has done through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son.

We caused the problem unilaterally – the sin of Adam and Eve which I inherit and propitiate. However the solution to the problem is God’s, unilaterally. We do not get to advise him, we are offered no alternatives or substitutes. Rather than making God into a villain, this should make it clear his great righteousness! (vs.21-26). And, it prevents us from taking any pride, any ownership in our salvation. We have done nothing to merit it or cause it. By faith in what God the Father has done through God the Son – a faith provided by none other than God the Holy Spirit – we are saved. The emphasis and focus is solely on God and his actions, as it should be.

John 8:31-36 – The alternate recommended reading for this Sunday was Matthew 11:12-19, but I felt this made better sense. Jesus calls God’s people to faithfulness in himself, Jesus. God’s people respond that they have no need of Jesus, because they have an identity, a history – they are God’s chosen people, recipients of the divine revelations of God. They believe that these things mean they are free.

Jesus clarifies. They are not free, because they are slaves still to sin. Yes, they have the Temple and the sacrificial system and the divinely revealed means of receiving forgiveness for their sins. But all of that is meant to help them see their true, enslaved condition! Instead, it has led to just the opposite – the illusion that they are free! Jesus must show them their chains, so they can see the one who comes to break those very chains. Jesus can do what the Law and the Temple and their sacrifices can’t – He can free them from their sinful chains eternally. Nothing short of faith in God’s plan of salvation can save even God’s chosen people from their rightful inheritance of death because of their sin. What the sacrifices and Temple can’t do all their life, Jesus will do in the single sacrifice of his life. The assurances they must receive from the High Priest over and over again that they are forgiven, Jesus will pronounce once and for all in his resurrection from the dead.

This is the heart of the Reformation. The Good News is not in our knowledge of the Law, nor in our special designation as a particular tribe or race. The Good News is not about Jesus the Christ, it is Jesus the Christ. His death is for me and for you. His resurrection is for me and for you. Not simply one day in the future when we die or He returns, but today, now, this moment. Through faith in his death and resurrection I am declared a sinless child of God, free from the chains of sin and a full citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. The reality is that my sin still lives in me as well and wars against this new identity, but that does not denigrate the new identity! I now see two identities at war – my old identity that demands that I be the Lord of my life, to my own death, and the new identity with Jesus as the Lord of my life, to my eternal life. At one and the same moment sinner and saint, simul iustice et peccator. One day, my only identity will be in Christ, and my assurance of that is in his triumph over the sinfulness and evil of man that nailed him to a cross and buried him in the tomb. His life promises me my life.

This is the Good News! There is nothing more to be done! Christ has done it all – we need only accept it and live!

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