Reading Ramblings – January 31, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, January 31, 2016

Texts: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13; Luke 4:31-44

Context: If the Word of God is as powerful as God demonstrates it to be, we should anticipate resistance to it. The enemy, Satan, who hates God but cannot hurt God, seeks to keep us from speaking and receiving God’s Word, the Word that brings life from death by delivering people from Satan’s power and into the kingdom of God. Such knowledge can be intimidating. What if we say the wrong thing? What if we don’t know what to say? What if we end up driving someone farther away from God rather than bringing them closer to him? Our fears are sometimes overwhelming, yet God’s assurances are firm. We do not speak alone, and we must trust not our lips or our eloquence or our knoweldge but rather the Word itself to create life where there is only death.

Jeremiah 1:4-10 – What an amazing and intimidating revelation! God has determined that Jeremiah would speak to the nations, before Jeremiah was even born! Intimidating but also reassuring. Can we doubt God’s purpose and his power? Jeremiah seems to, recoiling from the Lord’s calling on him. But the Lord is confident. Where we see only inadequacy, the power of God rushes in to fill the voids, accomplishing his purpose. We are to trust not in our own mouths but in the Word of God that we might be called to speak, trusting that if God the Holy Spirit leads us to that situation, God the Holy Spirit will be with us to give us the words necessary. Note that there is no emphasis on the results of Jeremiah’s speaking. Jeremiah’s sole concern is speaking what the Lord gives him to say. Will there be opposition? It would seem so, since the Lord counsels Jeremiah not to be afraid. Could there be danger? Yes, but the Lord will rescue him. It is not the person of Jeremiah who holds the power here, it is the Word of God placed in his mouth.

Psalm 71:1-6 – The psalmist acknowledges that God is his source of security from the threats of the world and people around him. With God as his refuge he can trust not to be put to shame, because God is capable of rescuing and delivering him. Only God has this ability. There is no other source of hope and confidence and security as strong as God. Who is it that would threaten and rage against one who has God as her hope and security? The wicked. The evil. The cruel. These are not new enemies, rather they are enemies that have watched for many years, noting the speaker’s life-long trust in God. God has always been the speaker’s hope and refuge so it is no surprise that the speaker turns to God now. Perhaps it has been the speaker’s praise of God that has roused her enemies against her. Yet despite the dangers that assail her, the speaker will continue to do what she has always done – trust in God.

1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13 – Having just explained the importance of all God’s gifts, and how they are given as a blessing to the people of God and not for personal vanity or gain (v. 7). The gifts of the Holy Spirit are wonderful and a blessing, but for the Corinthians they have become a source of conflict and strife and even competition. Certain gifts are held up as most valuable while others are scorned. While each gift is to be valued, the greatest gift is not any of these things but rather love.

It is love that allows each gift to be used to the fullest potential, and love that helps keep that gift from being abused. Perfect love allows the gifts to be used and received perfectly. However, there’s a problem here. Who loves like this? I sure don’t. I haven’t met anyone who does (though my wife comes close!). The truth is that only God loves like this. If perfect love is the safeguard against abuse or misuse of God the Holy Spirit’s good gifts, what guarantee do I have that I will use or receive them properly? There is none, and I am pretty much guaranteed to NOT use or receive them properly. I think this is Paul’s point, and why he will go on to give some very specific advice and direction in Chapter 14. None of us can claim to love perfectly, so we must all remain humble and open to the idea that we are misusing or abusing or neglecting the good gifts of God the Holy Spirit. Christian community should never assume that they’re getting this perfectly right.

Luke 4:31-44 – If we want to consider opposition to the Gospel, it’s hard to get much more intimidating than having demons coming out against you! Dealing with a hardcore and outspoken (and popular) atheist like Richard Dawkins or Ricky Gervais would seem to be a cakewalk compared to being confronted by an evil spirit.

But this is what Jesus confronts, the first overt opposition to his work and teaching (other than his rejection by his hometown just previously in the chapter). If you were going to have second thoughts about a specific course of action, certainly being nearly killed by the people you grew up among, and then challenged by evil spirits would be enough to make you think maybe another course of action would be more effective!

Yet Jesus remains resolute. Despite being challenged in the middle of his sermon in the middle of worship (a pastoral nightmare of mine!), Jesus remains calm and collected. He is not afraid. He rebukes the demon and demands that he leave the man. The demon of necessity complies – Jesus is fully human but also fully divine as the Second Person of the Trinity. It is not a power struggle. What Jesus says must happen. The demon makes this clear in what he asks. He identifies Jesus properly and also identifies what Jesus’ presence signifies – the final judgment. The demon is mistaken (as were the Jews) only in the issue of timing.

Jesus’ authority continues to be demonstrated in healing illnesses and in further exorcisms. Again, the demons know who Jesus is. Their attempts to identify him publicly are likely intended to complicate and confuse his ministry. Jesus silences them so that they cannot sabotage what He is doing.

Through it all Jesus remains focused and on task. Opposition to the Word does not mean that the Word should not be spoken. “I must preach the Good News” Jesus says in verse 43, and the Church would do well to remember these words and seek to be faithful to them in the face of increasing cultural hostility or apathy. The Good News still needs to be proclaimed. The Son of God came into the world to suffer and die to redeem creation from sin and death and Satan. Those benefits are extended to every single person in the world throughout history, and to every individual today. Nothing other than trust in this is required. There can be no greater news, no more important truth. The Church must remember this and be faithful to this even when people don’t come out to hear it or receive it with indifference or tepid hearts. Like Jesus, it is the Church’s job to preach the Good News. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to be at work where that good news is spoken or read.

Jesus must take to heart the words from the call of Jeremiah in the Old Testament lesson – what God ordains God provides the power to accomplish. In whatever way God wishes to use you and I towards his glory, He will equip us with the stamina or the courage or whatever is necessary to do so, regardless of the opposition or the apparent futility of such work.

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