Reading Ramblings – March 6, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 6, 2016

Texts: Isaiah 12:1-6; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Context: Last week’s readings focused us on how God might use suffering and catastrophe in order to call us back to him, to draw our hearts in repentance to him. And what do we find when we repent? Forgiveness. This week is all about forgiveness. Grace. Reconciliation. New creation. Hope. Joy. The Good News is that in Christ, we are reconciled to God – forgiven. There is no reason to run from him, no sin that can separate us from him once we repent.

Isaiah 12:1-6 – The opening chapters of Isaiah are littered with both prophecies of judgement as well as promises of hope. Chapter 11 introduces the shoot of Jesse who will usher in a new age of peace not just for God’s people but for all of creation. It is this promise that Chapter 12 looks back to and gives thanks for. The judgements and sufferings that precede Jesse’s offspring will fade into the background, compared with the great joy creation experiences. The Lord’s anger has given way to comforting, and He is to be praised for the salvation that He has become. There will be nothing left to do but to offer praise and thanksgiving.

Psalm 32 – This psalm beautifully highlights the theme of forgiveness that runs through today’s readings. Forgiveness is the greatest blessing and gift that we can have, because if we don’t have this, no other gifts or blessings can last. We sometimes want to hide away, though, fearful of confessing our sins to God. Our sins can drive a wedge between us, so that we spend less and less time with him, ashamed and fearful and perhaps even angry at him because our guilt boils in us. But how beautiful when we confess, when we lay out our sins and don’t try to hide them from him! The sins are not beautiful, of course – they are ugly and deadly and poisonous. But in confession we purge ourselves of the power of these toxic sins, like a sick patient finally willing to go to the doctor for a cure. And greater than any physician, God grants forgiveness and restores us. As such, it is right to come to God in prayer, and specifically confession. It is healing to receive the forgiveness assured to us through faith in the death and resurrection of the Son of God.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21 – The world has many means and measures for a person – wealth, beauty, age, experience – all these things are used to estimate or judge a person. Through them we render someone worthy or unworthy, important or unimportant, someone to seek out or someone to ignore or shun. However, in Christ, this is not how we treat one another. Having been converted by the Holy Spirit to faith in Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Son of God alters our means of estimating others. These worldly measures are useless and irrelevant, wholly insufficient. Rather, we see one another now as sons and daughters of God, creations for which our Savior died – whether that person realizes it or accepts it or not.

Once upon a time those who followed Christ gauged him by worldly standards – He won acclaim as a healer and teacher and Biblical scholar. But now, through his death and resurrection, such standards are wholly inadequate and inappropriate. Through faith in Christ, each person is a new creation. Worldly standards of wealth or youth or beauty or talents are inappropriate measures of a Christian. The world may still see her this way, but brothers and sisters in Christ now see her as this – a daughter of the King, a sister in Christ. Old standards pass away just as our old, sinful nature passes away in it’s firm control and grip over our life. Newness of life has come, the new creation raised out of the waters of Baptism. How is this possible? It is the gift of God the Father through faith in his Son, Jesus. Jesus is the means by which creation is reconciled to God, by which forgiveness can flow out to those who will receive it, by which we are recreated and raised from spiritual death to eternal life. We now bear this good news, this message of reconciliation, to a world that desperately needs to hear and receive it. We share this good news so that others might receive it in faith, and join us in newness of life and newness of estimating one another. Jesus, the only perfect and obedient man, took on the sin of the world in exchange for his own holiness and perfection so that we might be declared righteous by God, reconciled and forgiven for eternity. What a beautiful message of hope to bear to our world!

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32The story of the prodigal son highlights the amazing grace and forgiveness of God. It is hard to read the story without feeling disgust for the selfishness of the younger son, without appropriating the righteous indignation of the older brother. Yet by the story’s end, it is clear that such righteous indignation is not the appropriate response. We who have already been welcomed home by the Father no longer esteem others in Christ by the standards of the world. We who have received grace and forgiveness should be the first to extend it to others.

The context of the story is given in verse 2, the disapproval of the ‘righteous’ Pharisees and scribes. They know God’s law and pride themselves on keeping it but their hearts are far from his people. They do not see others as fellow creations of God to be loved and lifted up, but as lesser people, not up to their personal standards of holiness and not worthy of the attention of a noteworthy rabbi, not even Jesus whom they dislike. Jesus, in telling the next three parables, highlights the importance of those deemed unworthy by others. The father’s words to the elder brother are intended for the Pharisees and perhaps for you and I – “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” Those already in Christ should already be aware of the Father’s great love and reconciliation through Jesus, of the great sacrifice which Jesus became for us. As such we should be the first to desire that others would receive this great gift that we have.

God’s forgiveness exceeds our ability to fathom it, and oftentimes exceeds what makes us comfortable. We prefer to use our own yardsticks to determine who does and does not deserve forgiveness and grace, as though we were somehow fundamentally better than others. In reality, we are all the prodigals, all the selfish, wasteful, and wanton younger sons, wasting the riches of our Father on self-indulgence which vanishes. God could rightfully ask us to beg, to grovel, to make eloquent speeches of contrition. He does none of these things. He runs out to us to wrap us in his love and declare us still and always his beloved sons and daughters. This should speed us in our ministry of reconciliation, as Paul speaks of it. It should encourage us to share this wonderful news with those who suffer the pangs of guilt and regret, even with those who curse God and are angry at him. As we heard in last week’s passage from Ezekiel (Ezekiel 33), the Lord desires that we should live, not die. He is willing and able to extend his grace and forgiveness even at the last moment, forgiving and blotting out the many sins previous to faith in Jesus Christ.

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