Reading Ramblings – July 17, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, July 17, 2016 – 8th Commandment

Texts: Exodus 20:16; Psalm 119:161-168; Acts 5:1-11; John 8:42-47

Context: ** We continue in our alternate text selections for the remainder of the liturgical year, in order to preach through Luther’s Small Catechism. **

How we talk about our neighbors is crucial to the functioning of society. Do we foster distrust and abuse through our talk, or do we foster trust and relationship? Do we spend our time in gossip? Do we insist on complaining to everyone we can about a bad experience, rather than seeking to give the benefit of the doubt? Do we extend to other the courtesy that we hope others will extend to us in one of our less noble moments?

Exodus 20:16 – While the formal shape of this commandment cast it in a legal light, in terms of deliberately lying about a neighbor in a court case or under oath, the almost universal understanding is that this commandment extends to our everyday interactions. A person’s good name in their community is crucial to their ability to earn a living and function properly. Slandering someone can have far reaching repercussions, as we find in the news when boycotts of businesses go viral over the Internet.

Psalm 119:161-168 – Trouble is hinted at early in this psalm – princes persecute the speaker, bearing false witness or false accusations, perhaps. They are guilty of falsehood, but the speaker chooses instead to delight in and focus on the Word of God. God’s Word and law are a source of comfort even in the midst of persecution, and those who seek to remain faithful to them have a deep peace that those who lie do not. We are exhorted to emulate the speaker, to put our faith and trust in God even when sinful people malign us. He is our vindication.

Acts 5:1-11 – This episode in the early Church is not frequently preached on, in my experience. There is confusion about the reason for the drastic punishment which Ananias and Sapphira receive, but we should remember that what they experience is the natural consequence of sin – any sin. Each one of us will die and this is due to our sin. Our death, whether young or old, in health or sickness is not an indication of our faith in Jesus Christ, and we should be cautious in reading eternal implications into this story.

At issue is not the matter of generosity, but rather honesty. Rather than giving what they wanted to give to the Church, Ananias and Sapphira apparently sought credit and acclaim on the assumption that they had given everything from the sale of their property to the Apostles. Together they planned to do this, though their reasons aren’t given. Given how much we enjoy the respect and reverence of others, it isn’t hard to imagine their motivations.

Their dishonesty is the issue. Some people interpret this passage as a judgment against them for being greedy but it isn’t – Peter flatly acknowledges that the proceeds of the sale of their property are theirs to do with as they please (v.4). It is only that they lied about it – both of them – that they were punished. This doesn’t mean that they didn’t have faith in Christ, but they died for their sin. This is a powerful reminder of how serious sin is, and how seriously we should take it, even as forgiven followers of Jesus Christ. I trust that Ananias and Sapphira are in heaven as you and I will be one day in Christ, but oh the dangers and sufferings that our sinfulness causes ourselves and others in the meantime!

John 8:42-47 – Jesus is in the midst of series of disputations with the religious authorities in Jerusalem. At issue is the matter of heritage, with the Jews asserting that they are descendants of Abraham (v.33, 39) and therefore never enslaved spiritually to anyone. Jesus argues that they are in fact enslaved spiritually – to sin. The religious authorities are guilty of the sin of seeking Jesus’ death and refusing to examine what He says and what He does in light of God’s Word. They are so certain of their correctness, so certain that Jesus must be an agent of evil, that they ignore the Word of God.

This is not how Abraham acted, Jesus retorts. Jesus trusted God’s Word – the Word that called him to the Promised Land from Ur, the Word that promised him family though he was 75 years old, the Word that promised him land and a lasting legacy of blessedness to the world. He trusted the Word of God that later commanded circumcision. Abraham was characterized by his listening to the Word of God in obedience – a marked contrast to the actions of the religious leaders who reject the Word of God in Scripture and the prophets that would lead them to see Jesus as the Messiah. Their behavior in this respect is much more in keeping with Satan, the father of lies.

The reason the religious leaders cannot hear Jesus is because they speak a different language, the language of lies, the language of Satan rather than the language of God. If they were listening to God, they would realize that Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture, that his signs and wonders bear witness to this and fulfill the ancient prophecies.

In verse 46 Jesus contrasts himself to his adversaries, challenging them to bring a legitimate, binding charge against him. Certainly, if they can do this they can demonstrate that He is not the emissary of God He claims to be. Their silence indicates that they cannot convict him. They have no formal charge with which to arrest him. The trial scenes of Jesus in the Gospels make this clear – only when Jesus affirms his identity as the Messiah and the Holy One of God can they convict him. They can only convict him by refusing to examine his claim and insisting that He is a blasphemer.

How we talk about others matters. It matters whether it is in conversation or printed on the Internet through blogs or social media. We have the ability to destroy or build up, and how satisfying it is to try and destroy! How much easier to complain than to compliment! How much easier to insult and ridicule those who disagree with us rather than trying to understand them! The tone of our public discourse is disgraceful, and Christians are no less at fault in this.

We who have received the Gospel of Jesus Christ are not free to drag his name through the mud in our slander and vilification of others. We cannot justify our words of slander or hate with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God does not need to be defended by such means. If Jesus saw fit to allow himself to be arrested and die rather than resort to the scandalous plots and tactics of his adversaries, how much more should we be willing to suffer humiliation rather than tarnish the name of Jesus!

God created that person you want to insult because of their political views. Jesus shed his blood for that person who advocates for the slaughter of unborn babies or the right for people of the same sex to marry. You are not entitled to abuse them! You are commanded to love them and to pray for them (Matthew 5:44), and it is virtually impossible to pray for someone and seek to love them and still write terrible things about them or forward denigrating e-mail jokes about them!

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