Reading Ramblings – February 28, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday in Lent, February 28, 2016

Texts: Ezekiel 33:7-20; Psalm 85; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

Context: The season of Lent calls us to repentance, and repentance is the acknowledgement that we do not satisfy the criteria of our own consciences, let alone the divine and holy will of God. If we want to rely on our own efforts to secure the love and approval of God we will fail. “But if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Ezekiel 33:7-20 – Ezekiel is tasked as a watchman for God’s people. He is to faithfully convey the Word of God to the people of God. God’s Word is a word of warning, of preparation – a calling back to faithfulness. The goal of speaking the Word of God to the people of God is so that they might live, as this is God’s desire for all of his creation. But life does not come from our righteous deeds, because God demands perfection, and our imperfection, our sinfulness tarnishes and stains and renders worthless even our moments of nobility. It isn’t that we shouldn’t strive for righteousness, because our world needs us to live such lives. It’s simply that such lives cannot and do not save us in and of ourselves. Likewise, our failures are not in and of themselves enough to separate us from the love of God and the life that comes in that love. Forgiveness is always and constantly extended to those who are willing and able to seek it and accept it.

Do we call this excessiveness? Of course we do. It is not how we deal with ourselves or one another. But it is what God offers to us. It is not that God’s ways in this are wrong, but rather ours are.

Psalm 85 – Another prayer for God to relent and be merciful to his people. The psalm recalls God’s faithfulness to Jacob, making him a rich and powerful man despite the fact that he had to flee from home and his brother Esau with very little to his name. Instances of God’s anger abound in the Old Testament, but also instances of God’s grace and forgiveness, which is what the psalmist prays for. The speaker insists that she will listen to God’s Word, and we should presume that it is this Word that can keep the speaker from turning back to ways and practices contrary to the will of God. It is God’s faithfulness and forgiveness that make peace and righteousness possible – we cannot do it ourselves.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 – Paul utilizes Old Testament events as a warning to his hearers (including you and I today) about the dangers of sin. It should be noted as we begin that God’s temporal judgement on his people in the wilderness is nowhere spoken of as his eternal judgment. Just because people died in the wilderness does not mean they denied outside the blessings of God’s promise to Abraham.

Rather, the promise they inherited was not enough in and of itself to preserve them from sin and from the death that comes with and from sin. Despite being inheritors of the promise they sinned and suffered the consequences for their sin. So we as inheritors of the promise of life eternal and forgiveness through faith in the resurrection of Jesus as the Son of God sent for this very purpose does not, in and of itself, preserve us perfectly from sin. We who live in Christ do not fear the temporal punishment of the Law, but rather we strive against sin because of the dangerous hold sin can have over us – a hold that might ultimately lead us away from the love and forgiveness of Christ, lost in addition to our sin. Our baptism in Christ is not a reason to boast of our immunity to temptation and sin. Even though our sins are forgiven, we strive against them so that we may not become enslaved to them to our temporal and eternal peril. Furthermore, we have the promise that we can resist sin and temptation. God the Holy Spirit who dwells within us stands ready to assist us towards this end if we are willing to take that promise seriously.

Luke 13:1-9 – Our sinful nature assumes that God operates the way we do, giving his good gifts to those who deserve them and meteing out special punishment for those who do not deserve them. This powerful passage – similar to the book of Job – challenges and refutes our sinful way of conceiving of God’s actions. People suffer and die because they are sinful and live in a sinful world. We should not presume to think that their death or suffering is somehow indicative of God’s special displeasure with them. To do so is to forget what we have received in Christ, and go back to living under the Law. Were it not for the grace of Christ which Jesus comes to offer (the vindresser), all of us would remain under the condemnation of the Law, equally guilty before God and equally deserving of punishment now and for eternity.

It is not our special goodness which is the cause of the blessings in our lives. Rather, we are upheld by the grace and good will of God the Father. It is the love that He pours unsolicited into our lives that is the cause and source of our thriving. God is to receive all the glory if we live lives of abundance and fruitfulness, not us. We do nothing – God does everything!

Again, we are to take sin seriously, and to take seriously the promises of God’s Word regarding spiritual fruit as evidence of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and activity. We are expected to bear fruit, and we who profess Jesus as our savior should expect such fruit in ourselves! We are not free to determine what the fruit should look like in someone else’s life, though we may be blessed to help them see it for themselves. It is Jesus interceding on our behalf before God the Father through his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension that provides us with God the Holy Spirit within us causing us to bear fruit.

Sin is serious business, despite the best efforts of the world to deny it exists or to minimize the danger it poses. The danger of sin is not in the sin itself, as though somehow it cannot be or is not forgiven. Jesus’ blood forgives us all of our sins! Rather, the danger is that sin will lead us away from Christ, lead us to the point where we reject his blood, either as necessary for ourselves or as real and effective for anyone. Sin can lead us to insist that our sin is not sin, and therefore not in need of Jesus’ blood and forgiveness.

Rather, we who have been baptized into Christ’s death should expect that our lives will evidence this reality. We have been killed and made alive again in the water and the Word of baptism. We are not the same – we are transformed! We must take this seriously in striving against sin, expecting that we will be provided with the power of God the Holy Spirit to resist sin and temptation.

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