Reading Ramblings – June 5, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 5, 2016

Texts: Exodus 20:4-7; Psalm 113; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12; John 15:18-21

Context: We turn our attention to the Second Commandment. Now, before I move ahead with Luther’s version, I want to say that I think he got this wrong. I think that the Second Commandment should properly be to have no graven images. Luther ignores Exodus 20:4-6, moving directly from 20:3 to 20:7. I think that 20:4-6 ought to be the Second Commandment. However Luther doesn’t do it this way, and I’m supposed to be preaching The Small Catechism, not Paul’s interpretation of Exodus 20. So, back to task. We are to honor the use of God’s name. This is part of our proper worship of God. It is only proper to treat with reverence the name of the Creator of the Universe. It is this God who saves us through the name of his Incarnate Son, Jesus. To reverence the name of God the Son is to reverence God the Father, which is also to reverence God the Holy Spirit. Consequently, those who refuse to honor God’s name will reap the ramifications of their belligerence.

Exodus 20:4-7 – We do not profane God by attempting to represent him physically or worshiping any object. This has caused much debate over the centuries in the Church. Are the elaborate icons of the Orthodox Church a form of idolatry? No, they are devotional aids but not objects of worship. Likewise the cross should direct our thoughts to the sacrifice of Jesus, but we do not worship the form of the cross. Rather, we honor and worship God properly when we treat his name with reverence and awe. Refusal to do so is a willful disrespect of him who created the entire universe, which hardly seems like a wise course of action!

Psalm 113 – We are called to praise in verses 1-3, and specifically to praise the name of the Lord – to use the Lord’s name for worship rather than to misuse it. This is proper praise, proper use of the Lord’s name. Praise of God is always appropriate, at all times and situations because God is above the nations, and above the heavens. He is the Creator and master of nature and all creation as well as of humanity and all of our various allegiances and organizations. The power of God can reverse the misfortunes of the poor, placing them in the seats of honor. The power of God can reverse the barrenness of a woman, restoring her dignity and honor in a culture where the greatest source of pride for a woman was to have borne many children (particularly sons). The story of Abraham and Sarah, or the story of Jacob and Rachel, or the story of Hannah and her son Samuel are all instances where God granted children to women who had been unable to have them. We praise God knowing that all things are possible to him, and therefore nothing that we ask of him is impossible.

2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 – As we wait for our Lord’s return, we do so with the understanding that we anticipate the returning of all things to their proper state and nature. We think of this in many ways, but this passage focuses on the return of justice. Those who are afflicted for the name of Christ will one day be relieved of that affliction, and those who found it humorous or expedient to persecute them will be called to account. Jesus appeared in humility and weakness by the world’s standards in order to accomplish the perfect will of God to save all creation. But He will return in power and glory, not weakness and humiliation. Those who have rejected God and persecuted his followers will be called to account, and will find themselves punished for their unrepentant hearts and hands. They will be granted what they claimed to want – freedom from God. Freedom from God’s presence and rule and authority. They will be granted the horrible thing they wished for – to be free from God. But they will find that their desire in this respect was horribly misplaced. God is to be honored because He is good and powerful, and when we are removed from that goodness and power only suffering can result.

So Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to faithfulness in the face of persecution, to stay strong despite ridicule or more tangible offenses committed against them. The irony is that in enduring such persecutions, the name of Jesus will actually be glorified in their suffering. Their refusal to compromise, their willingness to suffer for his Name will be evidence of his authority and power and glory, just as their endurance will come from his authority and power and glory. The name of God is prone to abuse and neglect and persecution in this world, but we are not to let these things dissuade us from standing in our faith and in our refusal to malign his name.

John 15:18-21 – Faith in Jesus Christ earns the hatred of the world. Truth is always rejected by lies. Light is always a target of the shadows. Our respect and honoring of God’s name and identity and reality will earn us the world’s hatred, and we shouldn’t be surprised at this. After all, the world hated Jesus, and put him to a violent and early death rather than endure his teaching and continue to receive his miracles and blessings. The man who cast out demons, restored sight to the blind, restored hearing to the deaf, restored life to the dead, who fed multitudes and did all manner of amazing things to better people, this man the world put to death as a criminal! Can we be surprised that we who generally don’t perform such marvelous feats should be criticized and marginalized as well?!

As Jesus suffered, so we should expect to suffer. Our enemy is active and rages in his death throes, seeking to destroy as much as he can before his final banishment, seeking to separate as many as possible from the love of God. Suffering for the name of Jesus is not a sign that God is absent or false, it is the sign that He is very real and present, and his enemy despises this. Satan can’t hurt God, but he can damage God’s creation. Simply the name of God elicits his fury and wrath.

We are to stand firm when the world persecutes us for following Jesus. Throughout history people have learned this firsthand, suffered the loss of prestige or jobs or freedom or even life itself rather than reject or revile the name of God the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. Our culture rapidly advances in that direction. It is no longer a benefit to be known as a Christian, to be known as a member of a Christian congregation. It carries no social weight any more, and is rapidly becoming a stigma. Hold fast! We do not have to enjoy this suffering, but we have no excuse to be surprised or shocked by it. We must continue to praise the name of God rather than curse it, and in our gentle resistance to the demands of this world, may God’s name be glorified, may others be drawn to see through our imperfect endurance a God of love who waits with forgiveness for even the most virulent and vocal opponent. Our obedience and endurance may point someone to the cross and to the Son of God, and may be the means by which the Holy Spirit ultimately brings that person to eternal, saving faith. What a powerful blessing, that even our suffering can be used by God for his glory!

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