Reading Ramblings – January 29, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany – January 29, 2017

Texts: Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12

Context: I’m continuing to focus my preaching on the lectio continua selection of 1 Corinthians. The readings during Ordinary Time link between the Old Testament and Gospel lesson, with the Psalm providing further commentary, while the Epistle remains a unit unto itself.

Micah 6:1-8 – The Lord asks for an explanation from his people. How has He wronged them, that they should pursue other gods and forsake their covenant relationship with him? He recounts his goodness to them in providing them with men and women to lead and guide them, to act as intercessors between them and the Lord. Moses, Aaron and Miriam are familiar figures. But the Lord also brings up Balak, the king of Moab who hired Balaam to curse the people of Israel in Numbers 22, and Balaam’s response, which was to bless rather than curse God’s people. The Lord has always looked after and cared for his people, yet his people have turned away from him, a charge lodged in Micah 3.

The response of the faithful follower of God begins in verse 6. How can he atone for his sin? What will turn the Lord’s righteous anger away from him and his people? Sacrifice would be the logical assumption, and the speaker proposes even outrageous amounts of sacrificial animals and oil. But Micah responds for the voice of the Lord – It is not sacrifice that the Lord requires and desires from his people. Rather, He desires obedience and the proper creature/Creator posture of humility love for all that the Creator has created.

Psalm 15 – Who is the person who deserves to stand in the presence of God and dwell in his presence? Surely it is the righteous and blameless one, who is free from guilt of speech or action (v.3), and who does not admire the wicked but only admires God (v.4). The one who is perfectly obedient – this is the one who deserves to dwell on God’s holy hill.

And who might this person be? Is this psalm an exhortation to be this person, or a recognition that no one is able to fulfill these requirements perfectly, that all of us fail in one respect or another far more often than we like to admit? We would all acknowledge that the perfectly righteous person should enjoy God’s presence and favor, but there is no such person among us. Only the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, fulfills this psalm perfectly, being perfectly obedient in thought, word, and deed to the will of his heavenly Father. It is He alone who deserves, in and of himself, to dwell with God the Father on his holy hill. Yet his perfect obedience is shared with us, so that in our baptism, we are clothed with his righteousness, and his perfection is credited to us as our own.

1 Corinthians 1:10-18 – The Corinthians are aligning themselves with various preachers and evangelists, measuring one another by this and determining who is greatest. But Paul will have none of this. Do you enjoy your pastor? Are you proud of how your pastor preaches? He is nothing compared to the message he is charged with conveying, which is considered folly to the world yet is the source of life to those who trust and believe. It is the message that matters, that saves – not the messenger. It is only the message of Christ crucified and resurrected that has the power to kill and make alive again, so it is pointless to argue about who the greater preacher or evangelist is.

Furthermore, if you want to take pride in a particular preacher, then consider that this is his glory and not yours! It’s not like you are all that smart or wise! In fact, the world doesn’t consider you much of anything by the standards it prefers! Yet all the same, God has called you in faith to be His own. He has taken what is not impressive or wise or powerful and made you impressive and wise and powerful through faith in Jesus Christ. This is to God’s glory, rather than your own. You did not choose this or seek this, but rather God the Holy Spirit has sought you, to glorify God by saving someone who is not wise or impressive, solely through God’s grace and mercy, so that nobody might be able to boast of their wisdom or cleverness in finding God.

Matthew 5:1-12 – The Sermon on the Mount contrasts the blessed in the Kingdom of God with those whom the world considers blessed. As a rule, the world does not consider blessed those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness rather than their own pleasure or riches, the merciful or pure in heart, the peacemakers or the persecuted. The world is quick to bypass these people as weak or irrelevant. The world values power and riches, but the kingdom of God values proper relationship between ourselves and our Creator. The kingdom of heaven, in fact, requires this proper relationship, where we don’t seek our own advantage but rather submit to the will of our creator and trusting in his providence. Such behavior will invite persecution from the world – first as mocking and eventually as blatant exploitation. Such behavior is hardly new or innovative though, whatever generation it expresses itself in.

As followers of Christ our glory does not look like the world’s glory. We expect and even rejoice in persecution (while not seeking it out!) because this is one indication that we are remaining faithful to our Lord and Savior. We need only remain steadfast in our resolve, trusting that the Lord has us firmly in his hands despite our waving feelings and certainty, our sinful inclinations to flee or desert our faithfulness in order to avoid the suffering the world brings against us.

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