Reading Ramblings – November 11, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – November 11, 2018

Texts: 1 Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

Context: The last three Sundays of the liturgical Church year form a sort of mini-liturgical season. While they are all considered part of Ordinary Time (reckoned with all the other Sundays after Pentecost), their focus is unified in turning our eyes towards what every Christian should be praying and waiting for – the return of our Lord Jesus the Christ in glory to usher in the final judgment of evil and the beginning of a recreated or renewed creation where heaven and earth are brought together again in perfect unity, something lost in Genesis 3 through our willful disobedience of God. This mini-season culminates on the last Sunday of the Church Year traditionally celebrated as Christ the King Sunday. This mini-season also prepares us naturally for the start of the new liturgical calendar and the season of Advent, which focuses us on the promised return of our Lord as we remember how God the Father first fulfilled his promise to Eve with Jesus’ first arrival 2000 years or so ago. The readings for these last three Sundays of the Church year will center around themes of promises fulfilled as we await God the Father’s fulfillment of his final promise to us – that his Son will return.

1 Kings 17:8-16 – Our anticipation of our Lord’s return is an act of faith. It is a direction of our will, our hearts, and our minds in trust of God’s promise to us. The widow in this reading must make a similar act of faith that guides her decisions in very real ways. She and her son face starvation. Apparently with no husband/father to provide for them, they are even more at risk of this as the famine intensifies (17:1). It is the famine that has caused Elijah himself to seek help (17:2-7). Will the woman enjoy her final meal with her son, or will she provide for Elijah’s needs as well? There’s no indication that she knows who he is, or has any reason to think that her decision will mean anything more than quicker death for she and her son. Perhaps Elijah’s clothing gives him away as a prophet. Or perhaps the way he reassures her assists her in her decision. But in the end, she must trust the Word of God that Elijah reveals to her, and order her life accordingly. This is our job in faith as well. We cling to the Word of God alone, rather than rely on the wisdom or assurances of the world. Sometimes this calls us to make difficult decisions. Yet God is faithful in his promises to us. His Son will return. Evil will be judged and the faithful will live in glory. Even when we face death now, we hold fast to this promise as our eyes close for the last time, knowing that they will open once again.

Psalm 146 – I get a kick out of the placement of this reading so close to election time! Our culture and society want us to presume that the answer to all of our problems is to elect this person or this party. We need human leaders and we pray for wise and good ones, but even the best are flawed and sinful just as we are, and are also mortal. The good they do can be undone all too quickly, and the evil they inflict can persist many generations into the future. This psalm is not a call to political inaction or irresponsibility, but a reminder that we, as political creatures, already have a king to whom our ultimate allegiance is due, and who alone can and will fix the problems not only of our culture and world but our own hearts and minds. Only the one who made creation can redeem it and restore it. In the meantime, we pray for faithful men and women to utilize their God-given gifts for service to God’s creation in the manner which God himself directs. We are to pray for their well-being, offer forgiveness for their transgressions, hold them accountable not simply to opinion but to the Law of God, and pray ultimately that they too will join us around the throne of God in praise of him forever.

Hebrews 9:24-28 – We’ve skipped a fair bit of Hebrews in this lectio continua cycle. But these verses fit well the theme of these last three Sundays of the Church year. Jesus in his role as divine high priest is distinguished from human high priests. His divinity ensures that his singular sacrifice is efficacious completely, as opposed to the limited sacrifices made by the high priest annually. And the passage concludes with a pointing forward to our Great High Priests return in glory to save us. Jesus accomplished perfectly the atonement of the world in his death, evidenced by his resurrection from the grave. Final judgment will be the division of the holy – those who have repented and received the atonement in Jesus’ death, from those who have refused it. This is a division only possible to the divine wisdom and authority of God. Until such judgment, we can only speak provisionally as to someone’s eternal destiny as evidenced by their outwards actions and words. Only God knows the heart, and we should be very cautious indeed not to presume that wisdom to ourselves. Rather, we should constantly exhort one another to faith and trust in the sacrifice of Christ and the life and glory that results in such trust.

Mark 12:38-44 – The Gospel lesson challenges our perceptions of reality. Don’t we marvel at the eloquent, the stylish, the movers and shakers of this world? Don’t Christians do this in church culture as well, glorifying the stylish and popular preaching stars or lecture circuit inspirers? Doesn’t everything in our culture these days direct us to be world-changers, risk-takers, trend-setters, culture-influencers? And yet what Jesus sees is not the impact but the heart that offers it. Two small copper pennies are worthy of more note, more praise and notice than all the heavy, clanking offerings of the well-heeled. They give out of their abundance and she from her poverty. It is not the poverty that is admirable, but the trust and thanksgiving to God in the midst of uncertainty and an undoubtedly meager and tenuous existence. Promises are in this text as well. There is a time coming when all will either be commended or condemned, and we are likely to be surprised by who falls into each category. If the pharisees risk condemnation, it seems that the poor woman will likely receive commendation. All of which is predicated on the relationship of that person to God in Christ.

We look forward to our Lord’s return, a time of great celebration bound up with the judgment of evil and the final banishment of sin, death, and Satan. No other event in our lives can compare to what lies always ahead of us, calling our eyes forward towards the horizon. We look towards that day in faith and hope, confident not in ourselves but in the blood of the Son of God and our union with his death and resurrection in our baptism. It is God himself who declares us worthy, not on our own merits but on those of his Son. Our lives become a humble and joyful anticipation then of that coming day. Our joys are received in thankfulness of the greatest joy of forgiveness and grace. Our troubles are endured in light of the promises yet to be fulfilled, and the promise that one day every tear will be dried (Revelation 21:4) and death itself destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26).

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