Reading Ramblings – August 12, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 12, 2018

Texts: 1 Kings 19:1-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:17-5:2; John 6:35-51

Context: For reasons I’m unsure of, this is the second of three weeks where the Gospel comes from John rather than Mark. I’m sure there’s some reason for this other than the brevity of Mark’s Gospel! The reading in John continues on from the feeding of the 5000, with Jesus growing increasingly confrontational with those who have followed him from the previous days’ meal in hopes of making him their king. He has come for more than to hand out free meals. God sustains us daily with the bounty of the earth, but our full stomachs are not his primary concern. Rather, He seeks our eternal welfare through the bread of life, his Son.

1 Kings 19:1-8 – Despite a stunning victory over the priests of Baal in chapter 18, Elijah runs in fear from the death threat of Queen Jezebel, a formidable opponent to be sure. He flees into the wilderness away from everyone, and while the wilderness in Scripture is someplace where God can mold and shape us, Elijah seeks only death. But God does not abandon his servant or grant his request for death. Instead, God provides miraculously for Elijah so that he can continue his journey with divinely-granted strength for another forty days and forty nights until he reaches Horeb, the mountain where God revealed himself to Moses and the Israelites after freeing them from slavery in Egypt. God provides for our needs and sometimes provides more than we need. God who creates and sustains creation is not limited by the same rules and laws we are used to abiding by.

Psalm 134:1-8 – This is the final psalm of ascent – one of the psalms traditionally recited en route to Jerusalem and perhaps upon entry into the city. We are unsure of the introductory note – Abimelech is mentioned in 2 Samuel 11 by way of reference to Judges 9, which tells of Abimelech who was made king and came to a bad end by way of a mill-stone thrown by an old woman during his attempt to conquer the city of Thebez. This would have been well before David’s time, so it must reference a different Abimelech that we have no record of. The psalm is one of confidence and trust and rejoicing in the Lord’s provision, which includes some form of deliverance (vs. 4, 6). David leads his people to praise God who can be trusted to sustain and deliver them in their times of distress, much as God delivered Elijah from his distress.

Ephesians 4:17-5:2 – Having exhorted the Ephesians to unity through their shared faith in Christ, Paul exhorts them individually to set aside the lives they lived prior to coming to faith. The Christian thinks and acts fundamentally different than someone who does not believe in Jesus. The behavior may look similar on the surface, but the rationale is completely different. The Christian expects their minds to be renewed as they learn better and more thoroughly what the will of God is for them and how it differs from a culture bent solely on self-gratification. Having died to their sinful nature in Christ, the Christian is free to live as a new person. Such a new life will be characterized by honesty, as well as in tangible differences in how we work out problems between one another. Unity remains the goal, so that we are not entitled to dwell on our anger overnight, but should seek out the other party to make peace. Failure to do so provides an opportunity for Satan to work in our hearts and minds, leading us towards thoughts, words, and actions that contradict our new identity in Christ. Honesty is to include a turning away from theft, as well as a change in how we talk. What we do and say matter, both as a means of demonstrating our gratitude to God as well as a matter of how we love one another. Failure to allow the Holy Spirit to begin making these changes in our lives is a source of grief to the Holy Spirit, working against him rather than with him. Instead, we should cooperate so that we gain better control over our emotions, our words, and our actions. Rather than seeking only our own benefit and advancement we should earnestly seek to love and care for one another. We do so not necessarily because the other party deserves it, but rather because God has forgiven us. All of these things make us imitators of God, drawing us more closely into alignment with how He intends us to live, and how Jesus modeled life for us. Even if this means self-sacrifice, we do so willingly and gladly knowing that God has given us all things in Christ, and will vindicate us against our enemies on the day of judgment.

John 6:35-51 – Jesus directs the hearts and minds of the crowd to his true nature and work. He is offering himself on their behalf as real food, as real as the bread He miraculously provided the day before. Only in receiving the gift of Jesus in himself can anyone hope to escape from the constant clamoring simply for physical sustenance. Jesus offers nothing less than eternal life, something far beyond the hopes of a populace that sees him as a potential king to throw off Roman control. This of course is a cause of offense, particularly to those who think they understand who Jesus is and where He has come from. From their perspective, Jesus comes from Nazareth, from Mary and Joseph, not from heaven. Jesus continues unswayed, equating himself with God the Father by saying that He has seen God the Father. What Jesus has to offer is far greater than what Moses, one of the heroes of the faith, offered the Israelites in the wilderness. Moses was not the source of the manna, but still, that food was intended only to sustain God’s people physically for the normal course of their lifetime. What Jesus offers in himself is nothing less than eternal life, demonstrating his radical superiority to the religious and ethnic heroes of the people. The people want Jesus to be king, but a crown He will need to gain by force of war is far beneath him and what He offers. God is not content that we should simply live out our mortal lives, and He desires that we look for more than this from him as well. We should see him as the source of eternal life as well as the provider of what we need to live here and now. Only by keeping these things distinct and in proper proportion can we hope to receive the eternal life made possible by Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection.

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