Reading Ramblings – July 9, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 9, 2017

Text: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145:1-14; Romans 7:14-25a; Matthew 11:25-30

Context: The readings for today all convey a message of hope and promise through the deliverance of God. What we strive for each day in our personal and communal lives, yet achieve only tenuously if at all is fleeting compared to the gift of God who created us, redeemed us and promises to make us holy.

Zechariah 9:9-12 – Zechariah prophecies towards the end of the 6th century, as some of the Jews exiled to Babylon return to Jerusalem. In chapter nine, after prophesying dire things for the enemies of God’s people, God exhorts his people to rejoice at what He has done and will do for them. He will come to them humbly as their king (foreshadowing Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday). In that day, war will come to an end and peace will be established. God’s people are to return home confident that the Lord will restore them now that He has chastised them in exile. He will establish his people to his purpose among the nations. As with much prophetic writing, Zechariah’s words can be seen to be fulfilled in part over time, pointing ultimately towards God’s promised rest for his people on the day when Jesus returns in glory.

Psalm 145:1-14 – The introduction to this psalm classifies it as a psalm of praise. And while many of the psalms praise God, this is the only psalm to be specifically designated as such. The Hebrew form of this psalm is an acrostic, with 21 lines each beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Hebrew acrostics aim towards completeness of thought, and this thought is the starting and ending point in the psalm (vs. 1 & 21 – bless your name forever and ever), and the psalm alternates back and forth between statements of praise and enumerations of God’s attributes which are worthy of praise. This psalm is the introduction to the final five psalms, each of which begin with a word of praise to God (Hallelujah!)

Romans 7:14-25a – This is one of the most powerful passages in Scripture to me. It summarizes perfectly the angst and anguish that we live in as people redeemed in Christ but still plagued by sin. Paul is dispelling an improper conclusion to his argument thus far. As he’s described the Law’s role, someone might get the impression that the Law is somehow bad, that the Law is what we need to get rid of because it condemns us to death. This is not the case – the Law is good because it comes from God who is good. The Law is God’s Word – spiritual and not susceptible to the corruption of sin – quite contrary to ourselves who are physical and spiritual and therefore subject to sin.

This is our condition – we have been given the Law, understand it, acknowledge that it is good and desire to fulfill it. Yet the sin within us works against us! How confusing is this – that we end up doing what we don’t want rather than what we want – we find ourselves sinning instead of living according to God’s perfect Word! The fact that we regret our sin, are repulsed by it – is proof that we are in agreement with the Law, acknowledging that it is good. Our will does not desire the sin that still lives within us. Our will desires to follow the Law. We intend to be obedient but are unable to, imprisoned, as it were, within our sinful human nature. Although there are times where we will to sin, a Christian’s overall will seeks Christ and obedience to God. And in that larger sense, the Christian’s will is not what is sinning (at least from God’s perspective, perhaps), but rather their sinful human nature at war within them.

What hope can we have, to be alive inside but dead on the outside? Are we not destined to death? No! Paul ends with a mighty statement of thanksgiving and praise to God the Father who has saved us through his Son, Jesus Christ. The one who has given us the Law has also saved us from our inability to live by it.

Matthew 11:25-30 – Where do we find our peace? We don’t find it in the news of the day or the trends and fashions of the day. We are led by the nose and the wallet from one purchase to another, from one upgrade to the next. Happiness eludes us and we often find ourselves more troubled than before as we seek to pay for all of the things that are supposed to give us peace. Today’s culture esteems a packed schedule and a breathless pace as evidence of success.

Yet peace is right in front of our eyes. Peace not as dictated by the world or promised on commercials, but peace from the only source of true peace. The God who created us and knows us best. Who sacrificed his Son to give us peace, and promises to build it within us by his Holy Spirit. Who is this peace extended to? Anyone who will receive it like a little child – without attempting to earn it or buy it or merit it in any way. Simply by acknowledging that you don’t have the capacity to create that kind of peace on your own, and that you must have it given it to you by a larger entity than yourself.

This is the mystery of Christianity. Where every other religion or philosophy demands our greatest effort in order to achieve the desired end, Christianity insists that this is impossible, and that we must be given – free of charge – our desired end. Only then are we free to apply ourselves in joy and thanksgiving to being who God created us to be. Only then are we capable of having and keeping peace despite whatever rages around us. Only then do we realize the lightness of being in right relationship with the God who created us. Only then does life begin to take on a semblance of meaning and also purpose. Only then do we find ourselves able to truly love others.

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