Reading Ramblings – March 13, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 13, 2016

Texts: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:(4b-7)8-14; Luke 20:9-20

Context: Last Sunday was the (observed) halfway mark of Lent, Laetare Sunday. This week’s readings call us to forget the past – or at least forget that part of the past which is lost in our sinfulness. Instead, we are to focus on the new thing that God is doing in our midst, preparing ourselves for it and trusting that it not only will be revealed, but even now is real and present.

Isaiah 43:16-21 – The opening of this chapter emphasizes the Lord’s commitment to his people and his protective love for them that will overcome the many obstacles that may seem to keep them from recognizing and thriving in that love. How can this be trusted? By observing what the Lord did for his people in the past – bringing them through the waters of the Red Sea and closing those same waters over Pharaoh’s army, destroying it as the Israelites watched from safety on the other side of the waters. We trust God because of how God has demonstrated his power in the past. As such, God calls us not to remember former things. He doesn’t intend for us to forget his power and love evidenced in the past, but rather to forget our ways of thinking and our ways of expecting, both of which were shattered when the power and love of God was demonstrated in our lives. Just as He overturned our feeble expectations in the past, even now He is in the midst of a new thing which we can observe and experience. In context, God promises a way home for his exiled people, a way back through the wilderness to Jerusalem. In our context, we would direct our eyes to what God has done in Christ, the effects of which are ongoing, directing our hope not towards the past and mere remembrance, but towards the future in joyous expectation of what is yet to be revealed.

Psalm 126 – Themes of reversal are prominent in this psalm. Once things were bad, but God changed them into good, echoing God’s command in Isaiah not to dwell on the past in terms of the way things used to be, but rather to acknowledge that God is at work even now, even in the midst of whatever struggle is at hand. Because God has acted in the past we can praise him and worship him, even as we pray for his intercession here and now in our present circumstances. We can affirm that not only can He act, He will, and He has, so that already our tears are being replaced with shouts of joy. The future is certain in God who has given us his Son as his promise of what lies ahead for each of us in Christ.

Philippians 3:4b-14 – Officially the reading begins at verse 8 but I think it is helpful to include the ‘optional’ section of vs.4b-7. What is our list of reasons for confidence? Raised in the church? Confirmed? Donated to the construction of the worship hall 40 years ago? Regularly tithe? Paul hits what we all deal with, our unconscious (or conscious) efforts to tout our credentials compared to others (contextually, other Christians even!). But Paul’s conclusion can’t be argued – our credentials are worthless to God, completely incapable of meriting the grace He offers freely simply through faith in his Son’s incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return. This gift is worth giving up any other credentials or awards or laurels we may be tempted to boast about in this life. The only goal that matters is life in Christ – both temporally and eternally. This is a goal we can never presume is safely in the bag – not because God is unpredictable but because our hearts are fickle and we have an enemy committed to waylaying us and leading us astray. As such we continue actively and intentionally in our lives of faith. There is no room or cause to rest and coast. Our work does not propel us closer to the goal that God has already given to us, but it ensures that we are not lost en route to the finish line by our own foolishness and the evil of this world.

Luke 20:9-20 – What is the new thing God is doing, towards which we should direct our attention, forgetting the situations and ways of thinking that precede it? Nothing less than the restoration of all creation. This can be hard to imagine, considering the evils of this world (particularly on display in another tragic election year) and of the human heart (also thinking of said election year). Our ways of thinking and doing are ingrained so that we are calloused and even unable to fully appreciate our own involvement in them. We can see murder and presume we are justified, or that our hands are clean. We can look at sin as a historical issue perpetuated by those other people, rather than the condition of our own blackened hearts. We can condemn evil, not realizing that in doing so we ourselves stand condemned as well. We can justify our plotting and scheming, our gnashing of teeth all as God-pleasing, righteous, and right.

There is only one righteousness, though, that which is God and comes from God. Sometimes we can glimpse righteousness, identify it from a multiple choice line-up on an exam. But we don’t participate in it naturally. Even our holiest and most noble moments are shot through with sin. We know the right answer but are perpetually unable to attain it and exemplify it as the rule and norm in our life. We are in the dreadful position of the smug tenants who think that they have outsmarted the landlord, yet stand unknowingly poised on the edge of destruction.

We are called to repentance, to recognition of our sinful predicament, of our inability (and even our lack of desire) to follow the ways God lays out for our lives. We are convinced that we can sin with impunity, that the aggregate weight of our sins is ultimately inconsequential compared to those around us, so that God can’t help but deal lightly with us and commend us for our goodness. The outside observer can see the clearer picture, but is likewise mired in their own illusions of moral superiority.

God will act. Has acted. Is acting. He is making us worthy tenants, a process that won’t be completed until our Lord returns in glory. Only then will we be fit tenants, as Adam and Eve were fit tenants at the beginning of creation. Only when evil is banished fully will we be free to serve God and one another as we are commanded. Any alternatives we might come up with to God’s perfect plan in Christ are, by definition, inadequate at best, outright evil at worst. We must allow our pride and ego to be broken to pieces as we fall to our knees in awe and worship of the cornerstone laid for our sake. The alternative is to be crushed by that cornerstone.

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One Response to “Reading Ramblings – March 13, 2016”

  1. When a Brother Leaves | Living Apologetics Says:

    […] Of course in these situations there is always difficulty and celebration.  It’s hard for a congregation when a good pastor feels the prompting of the Holy Spirit to pack up and move on.  It’s equally hard on that pastor to leave a good congregation.  But it happens, and in these situations as in all situations we trust the Holy Spirit and pray for forgiveness and the strength to move on positively.  We look forward to what new thing God will do in the situation (picking up on the theme for this Sunday’s readings). […]

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