Reading Ramblings – November 8, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost – November 8, 2015

Texts: 1 Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

Context: The gauntlet begins. For pastors, the last three weeks of the liturgical year can be challenging. Three Sundays focused through the readings on the return of Christ. It ought to be a topic we could spend months preaching on, but somehow these three weeks are really challenging. They are made more so by the fact that the theme basically extends into Advent and the beginning of the new liturgical year. We end the year in anticipation of our Lord’s return, which makes more sense frankly than simply waiting for the end of a random 12-month cycle in order to hang up a new calendar on January 1! The year ends by focusing us on the future in a very tangible way, and then the new liturgical year begins in the same vein, now focused through the lens of God’s people in Scripture awaiting the promised Messiah. So if your pastor’s sermons tend to sound a bit similar for the next two months, give them a break :-) Or better yet, give them some friendly suggestions on how you might think about some of these texts!

1 Kings 17:8-16 – This chapter is a rather innocuous introduction to one of the most famous of the Old Testament prophets. Without much fanfare Elijah is introduced as living in the northern kingdom of Israel and through Elijah God proclaims to the infamous King Ahab a severe drought. God provides for Elijah first through a small brook and later through a widow. In the process God saves not only Elijah but this nameless woman and her son. Not for any merit of theirs, but simply out of his inscrutable ways and love. God does not save every believer from suffering, but He promises that suffering will not be the last word in our lives. Elijah and the widow wait for the rains to fall again and for life. We wait for the revelation of the life that has been created in us through faith in Jesus.

Psalm 146 – In light of the 1 Kings passage we see how the power of worldly leaders pales in comparison with the power of God the Father who sends or withholds rain. I wonder what it would be like if Christians were as passionately involved in the Word of God and seeking peace there as we often are with debates and the latest editorials or news reports about our world leaders.

Our God rules his creation through human authorities as well as in the divine power of his revealed Word. As such, we are commanded to obedience (Romans 13), while at the same time keeping things in perspective. The psalm is effective if it is prayed not simply as a text about our human leaders but for them as well. How much responsibility we load upon their very human and mortal shoulders! God is the one to whom we rightly turn for deliverance, and the determiner of good human leadership shouldn’t be how telegenic they are or how witty they are in a 3-minute snippet of debate, but rather how faithfully they take God’s presence and power to enable them to responsibly carry our their duties. Likewise, they (like we) can take comfort that what they cannot accomplish themselves in the span of one or two terms, God can and will accomplish in his time. This is what we look forward to – the return of our Lord and the return of creation to proper ordering and relationship with God.

Hebrews 9:24-28 – We have skipped several chapters in Hebrews in order to maintain the lectio continua tradition while still directing our gaze firmly to our Lord’s work. In Chapter 9 Paul continues his theme of Christ as the perfect and greatest High Priest. Paul elaborates on the symbolism of the Tabernacle and the Temple, divided into the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, with an eye towards further demonstrating the perfection of Jesus as the final, perfect High Priest of God, the perfect intercessor on sinful creation’s behalf that human high priests could only imperfectly imitate.

Unlike them, Jesus sacrifices not an animal but himself. Unlike animal sacrifices, Jesus as the Incarnate Son of God offers through and in himself a perfect final sacrifice, rendering all further sacrifices unnecessary. That sacrifice was offered 2000 years ago on the cross, and God’s acceptance of the sacrifice was demonstrated in the resurrection. So what we look forward to in Jesus’ promised return is not another sacrifice, but rather to gather God’s faithful together. So as we turn our eyes to his return, we do so in hope, not in fear.

Mark 12:38-44 – Do we fear our Lord’s return? On what grounds? Are we afraid that He will declare our faith too small, that we have done too little for him? With the anniversary of the start of the Reformation still ringing in our ears from last week, we ought to know that such a fear is groundless. What is it that God expects us to offer him? Nothing! God offers us everything, what do we return to him? Nothing. Still we worry. We worry that we have not loved our neighbor adequately, or shared the Gospel fervently or often enough. If we have such concerns, we need to take them to God in prayer. Is the Holy Spirit trying to rouse us from lethargy, to call us to use our God-given gifts and talents better? Then we should take that prompting seriously! But if our worries result only in fear and dread of our Lord’s presence, if they keep us from prayer and worship and fellowship, then we need to see them as temptations of The Enemy and pray to keep our eyes fixed on Christ rather than ourselves.

Jesus warns us that appearances are deceiving. Those who seem most holy, most spiritual, most religious naturally draw our gaze and our admiration. But in that process we lose sight of what matters, seeing in every person the image of God, a brother or sister for whom Jesus died. In marveling at the splendor of the wealthy and how they can demonstrate their faith on a grand scale, we miss the quiet obedience and faithfulness of those we tend to think of as irrelevant and unimportant. Yet Jesus doesn’t highlight the faith of the wealthy or the religious leaders (and this is not necessarily an indication that they have no faith!), but rather the unobtrusive act of a poor woman. We can almost picture ourselves sitting with Jesus and watching the streams of God’s faithful come by. We recognize how our eyes would be drawn to those in public functions or with impressive clothing. We know all too well how uninteresting most people can be, particularly those whose lack of worldly goods makes us uncomfortable in our comparative wealth.

God takes Elijah away from the court of Ahab and leads him to a poor widow of no account. Jesus highlights the contributions not of the wealthy or eloquent but of a poor widow. This is not necessarily to teach us that we ought to be poor or widowed, but to remind us that God looks after those we are unwilling to. The woman preparing to die of starvation with her son is saved by the grace of God through Elijah. The poor woman offering her sacrifice in the Temple lives on not just because Jesus points her out but because Jesus offers his life in exchange for hers, as well as for ours.

My life in Christ should not be characterized by guilt, and I should not anticipate his return with fear and uncertainty. God has spoken! I have been declared righteous, not on my own merits but rather on the basis of faith and trust in the Incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended Son of God, Jesus. I have nothing to fear, not even God’s timing. Whether I pray for Jesus’ return to save me suffering, or whether I pray for his delay so that I might enjoy life a bit more, or so that others will hear the Gospel and be saved, I need to trust the perfect timing of God the Father. I contemplate the end of the world not in dread but in peace. I know (and last week and All Saints Day helps me to remember!) how things will one day be. I know the ending to the story, I just lack the details and the timing. Let God be God and worry about those things. There is enough to do today in loving God and loving my neighbor to ensure I don’t have too much idle time to worry!

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