Reading Ramblings – August 5, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 5, 2018

Texts: Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 145:10-21; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:22-35

Context: The season of Ordinary Time focuses on the life of the Church, those who have been called in faith as part of the body of Christ. But what does this mean, and what does this look like? How is a congregation a faithful part of the body of Christ? Where does the focus lie? What are the measures of success or failure? Too often, we evaluate churches and congregations the way we do businesses. How big is it? How quickly is it growing? How many customers/parishioners are in attendance every week? What are the plans for growth or expansion in the future? Our American consumerist mentality leads us to judge congregations based on their size, the newness and expansiveness of their facilities, their annual budget size, their staff level, and numerous other criteria. Growth and size and power are the emphases. All in the service of the Gospel, to be sure, but at what cost? Unity, often, for one. We have been called to be part of the Body of Christ. We are not ourselves the body, but only parts of it, over whom Christ is the head. Paul repeatedly emphasizes the importance of unity. Being together in heart and mind. Culturally this is often a woefully neglected emphasis. In a culture where every person is supposed to determine all aspects of their life, what they believe to be right or wrong, true or false, acceptable or unacceptable – unity is destroyed. The body of Christ is atomized when we emphasize personal agency. But what is the alternative? Focus on the sustaining power of God the Father. Not on what we want or like but rather what He provides us with, just as He fed his people manna in the wilderness. Only if He is our emphasis can we hope for the unity that He himself provides us in the abiding presence of God the Holy Spirit, in the sacramental presence of God the Son.

Exodus 16:2-15 – God the Father provides his people with what they need. Not necessarily what we want, but what we need. He does so in myriad ways, but we are inclined to always seek for more, different, or what we consider to be better. How quickly we forget God’s deliverance, as He delivered his people from the genocidal Egyptians! Instead, we focus only on the moment’s lack or uncertainty, or the future’s lack of definition. How often we are willing to settle for a certain awfulness, rather than an uncertain hope and promise! We are anxious and irritable when we are not in control, when the illusion of control we cling to so desperately is removed and we are forced to consider how supremely and completely dependent we are upon our Creator. This might inspire terror if we know only God the Creator, and not God the Redeemer or God the Sanctifier. But we should be unified by our dependence on God’s provision, and the bond of common need and dependence that only the faithful can truly share.

Psalm 145:10-21 – Unity is found not in glorifying ourselves but in glorifying God. Unity is found not in emphasizing our personal wisdom or insight or strengths, but in recognizing all of these things as blessings of our Creator God to be used towards his glory alone through love and care of his creation and our fellow creatures. This psalm emphasizes how the Lord provides, and He chooses more often than not to provide through our fellow human beings. Rather than raining manna from heaven He leads some to tend the soil, some to raise animals, some to drive trucks and others to build grocery stores. We are all necessary parts of the way God cares for his Creation, and in seeing ourselves and one another in this way we are better able and hopefully more willing to seek unity rather than dominance, to value and prize one another simply for their existence as part of God’s marvelous creative activity and not simply as means to our ends, allies or opponents. If God has given me my neighbor, how can I mistreat them, or speak poorly of them, or seek to use them only for my personal advantage? How much more proper that I seek a unity of heart and mind with them in praise of our common Creator?

Ephesians 4:1-16 – Unity is the main emphasis here. Having prayed that God would bless the church in Ephesus with all his good gifts, Paul prays that they would exhibit this blessing in their unity. How can we fight with those around us whom God has blessed alongside of us? How can we criticize or blame or speak ill of these whom God has blessed us with as brothers and sisters in Christ in the very tangible sense rather than some abstract manner? We may disagree with one another, and have different perspectives and ideas. But all such perspectives and ideas are themselves gifts of God the Father! What is most important – more important than being right or being successful by the world’s definitions is how we seek unity with one another above all. How we would rather concede our point of view than allow Satan a place at the table by talking ill of others. We must value our brothers and sisters in faith not conceptually but actually. Not abstractly but concretely. And we must do so at any and all cost – other than the Truth of God’s Word, which must never be compromised or set aside! God has given us our differences to make us stronger, just as He has provided a variety of gifts and roles to be fulfilled among his people. Not to our glory but to his, and always towards the sole goal not of material prosperity or even growth but rather love of God through love of neighbor.

John 6:22-35 – Elect a king based on a free meal? Sounds silly, doesn’t it. What a small conception of God and what He offers to us! Yet how often are we equally presumptuous about what God should do for us? Good health? Financial security? Economic or social policies we agree with? How often do we want a God that will do the things we want him to do, but not a God that demands everything we are and have be submitted to him? Those people on the hillside were happy with a free meal but likely wouldn’t have been interested in taking up crosses and following Jesus to Golgotha. Are we any different? All too often, not. All too easily we presume God exists to satisfy us, rather than the Biblical assertion that we exist to worship and praise God. To rely on him for everything in good times or in bad. It is this shallowness of faith that Jesus calls us from. Jesus continues in this episode to insist that life is found only in partaking of him, something even his disciples exclaim is a hard teaching, difficult to hear and accept. But Jesus settles for nothing less. There is nothing less to be had. Either all or nothing. And either Jesus is the necessary aspect of every day of your life that He really is, or He really isn’t much of anything to us.

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