Reading Ramblings – October 23, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: 23rd Sunday after Pentecost – October 23, 2016 – Luther’s Table of Duties

Texts: Ruth 1:6-15; Psalm 46; Philemon; Luke 3:1-22

Context: ** We continue our alternate text selections for the remainder of the liturgical year in order to preach through Luther’s Small Catechism ** Luther closes his Small Catechism to a close with a list of duties for various vocations (we’ll cover his section on prayer a few weeks from now, due to Reformation Sunday and All Saints Day observances). In case the Christian is inclined to see her Christian life as something detached from the rest of her existence, something belonging to the realm of Sunday morning only, Luther provides Scriptural admonitions about how Christian faith looks when working or raising a family. Those who abide in Christ can’t help but bear good fruit (John 15), and Luther selects verses that help paint a picture of what that fruit might look like. Scripture provides plenty of examples of Godly responses to various situations and relationships for us to learn from.

Ruth 1:6-15 – Naomi demonstrates love for her daughters-in-law by sending them off. Her husband is dead, as are her sons – their husbands. The familial bond has been shattered, and rather than have them spend their lives as widows on the margins of society, Naomi tells them to go and seek husbands elsewhere and leave her to her own suffering. In response, these Moabite women – not followers of God – demonstrate love for Naomi in rejecting her initial overtures. The relationship between them is curious to begin with, since the Moabites are enemies of the Israelites, tracing back to their ancestry in the incestuous offspring of Lot’s daughters. Eventually one of the women sees the wisdom – and love – in Naomi’s plan and leaves. But Ruth remains. She will not go. She even goes so far as to convert from her native religion to the worship of Naomi’s God. She certainly seeks to honor Naomi, even as Naomi seeks to protect her. We might say that the Holy Spirit prompts Ruth’s response, though of course the text doesn’t explicitly indicate this. Certainly given Ruth’s role as an ancestor of King David, and therefore Jesus, this is not an unreasonable inference, though. Simple care and kindness is not Christian per se. But in Christ we are motivated to love and care for others, sacrificially if necessary.

Psalm 46 – This is the first of the psalms of Zion, psalms that emphasize the relationship of Jerusalem to God and visa versa. It begins with an affirmation of trust and faith in God. This trust and faith is in spite of terrible circumstances, not simply because God preserves the congregation from terrible circumstances. Though the psalm invites contemplation on God’s chosen city, Jerusalem, the ultimate source of hope and confidence is not in the city itself, but in God and his presence. It is his presence that makes her secure, and there is no power or force on earth that can displace him. The final verses of the psalm interpret the calamity of war as part of God’s power and plan. But just as He uses human conflicts for his own ends, He will just as surely bring those conflicts to a close. In his presence there is no need or point for war. There is nothing but stillness in his presence, acknowledgment of his divine majesty and power. God will be exalted, no matter how hard the nations may strive against this. As such, it is his people’s duty to at all times trust in him. No matter how bad things seem or are, God is with us and for us. He has given us his Son, and we can trust that He will bring us through even the Valley of the Shadow of Death to life beyond.

Philemon – What are the duties that a slave owes his master, and visa versa? We might be tempted to say that the Christian answer is for the owner to free the slave, that slavery is incompatible with the Christian faith. But this is not true, strictly speaking. Christianity is far more concerned with how we treat one another in our various economic relationships, than in defining what economic relationships are or are not appropriate in the first place. Philemon is difficult for some Christians, because Paul does not simply tell Philemon to free Onesimus. He does not lecture him on the evils of slavery. What he asks is that Philemon forgive Onesimus and that right relationship between the two would be restored. If the economic relationship is that of master and slave, each should fulfill their duties to the other knowing that they are brothers in Christ. Economic relationships come and go, change and shift over time, but our identities in Christ do not change, and are therefore to be the overarching realities that drive how we treat one another. Perhaps Onesimus was not a very good or reliable slave before (v.11). But now Onesimus returns as a Christian, so that his service should be as though to Christ.

Regardless of the nature of our relationships with others, we are to treat them as a creation of God the Father, for whom God the Son suffered and died.

Luke 3:1-22 – Luke provides a plethora of details to help place the time frame and location for the events that will unfold in this chapter. This is a list of vocations in itself, roles of various political leaders in the region, but also a description of John the Baptist’s role, calling the people to forgiveness in preparation for the ministry of Jesus. Luke quotes Isaiah to further clarify John’s role. John has harsh words for the growing crowds. Don’t just come to gawk. Don’t just come to point and giggle, to sight-see. Come in repentance, because their identity as children of Abraham is not going to save them.

Naturally the crowds want practical advice about what repentance looks like. Repentance is a turning away, changing direction completely. So for those who are comfortable with their belongings, they are to see them not as something to hoard but something to share. The dishonest are to quit being dishonest. The violent are to quit abusing others. Not everyone listens. Herod fails in his vocation of ruler in that he locks up John, who is an innocent man. This is contrasted with Jesus, who is faithful in his vocation of obedient Son to God the Father, so that the Father is able to audibly voice his approval of Jesus.

Repentance is lived out. It is evidenced in what we say and do and what we don’t say and do. It is imperfect, to be certain, and there is forgiveness for our failures. But our lives will reflect that grace and forgiveness almost automatically. As we are aware of all that Jesus has done in saving us from ourselves, our lives will reflect our new identities more and more, particularly as we live out our relationships with others.

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