Reading Ramblings – February 10, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 10, 2019

Texts: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 14:1-33; Luke 5:1-11

Context: It’s popular parlance to talk about searching for God, or asking someone have you found Jesus? In reality, searching for God is not something we are able to do, as though God were playing hide and seek with us like a giggling child. God’s Word tells us that despite the abundance of pointers to him (Psalm 19, Romans 1), it is He who continually pursues us. As we come into relationship with him we recognize our unworthiness and unpreparedness for this relationship. We who have rebelled against the rightful King discover that the King wants us to be his friend, and is willing to work with us and within us and at times despite us to replace our rebellion and hate with obedience and love, conforming us back into the image we have rebelled from and against.

Isaiah 6 – Isaiah is a prophet in the late 8th century BC, speaking to leadership in Jerusalem over the course of four kings and several decades. Here in chapter 6 we have Isaiah’s commissioning, his formal and divine preparation to deliver the Word of God. This isn’t necessarily predictive of every prophet’s experience, but Isaiah is affirmed in his role as well as in his readiness to perform it. Brought face to face with the holiness and majesty of God, Isaiah on his own merits can only despair, aware of how improper it is for him – a sinful man – to be in the presence of the divine. God does not exhort Isaiah to purity, but rather provides it to him. God does what Isaiah cannot do for himself. Thus emboldened, Isaiah can attend to the difficult task of calling for penitence and faithfulness from leaders bent on self-reliance.

Psalm 138 – God is to be praised for many reasons. As the creator of all things, for his enduring presence and power, and here, for his love and faithfulness. In a world where truth is subject to regular reinterpretation or subjective rejection or acceptance, where people change their minds and identities like outfits, where technology outpaces our ability or even desire to keep up, let alone to think meaningfully about the implications of our automation, God’s faithfulness and love are unique and distinct in their enduring nature. There is no time at which God does not love his creation and seek to restore it to proper relationship with him through the death and resurrection of the Son of God. There is no one to whom God does not extend the offer of amnesty and forgiveness. We can know that whenever we reach out to God in prayer and praise, He is there and listening. This faithfulness and love should be the wisdom upon which human understanding and application is built. Good leaders ought to not simply emulate God’s faithfulness and love but actually lean upon it and promulgate it, leading by example in their recognition and praise of God’s love. And because God is not fickle, we need never worry that He is distracted or disinterested, and that even when we are enduring difficult situations, He is with us and will deliver us ultimately, strengthening our hearts to face whatever is necessary. His enduring faithfulness is the grounding and baseline and rationale for our own limited and flawed efforts to improve ourselves and one another and the world around us.

1 Corinthians 14:1-33 – I expanded the assigned reading to include Paul’s full teaching on this topic rather than just part of it. This chapter continues the flow of Paul’s thoughts from Chapter 12, and fits within the overall scheme of the letter in drawing the Corinthians back into unity in Christ rather than division among their own ideas. God the Holy Spirit is the giver of all gifts, and He gives gifts that are varied in nature, but always for the end goal of building up the Church (Chapter 12). All are to be grounded in and submissive to the overriding, greatest gift which is love (Chapter 13). The Corinthians appear to prize speaking in tongues more than other gifts, but they need to ensure that this gift – like all others – is acknowledged to be from God and used for the blessing of his people. Paul paints a picture of spiritual gifts that are rarely – if ever – given beyond our ability to control their use. We who are granted a particular gift must determine the best way to apply it.

Paul begins by distinguishing who speaking in tongues benefits. Firstly, it benefits the individual speaker (vs.1-5). In this respect, prophecy is to be desired more than speaking in tongues because it more directly builds up the body of Christ. Speaking in tongues benefits the body only if the gift of interpretation is also given, so that those present might know what is being said (vs.6-19). The mere fact that somebody is speaking in a different language is secondary to what is being said! So Paul desires that the Corinthians keep their focus on the community rather than the individual (v.12). Paul concludes by indicating that the gift of tongues is primarily for the outsider, rather than the community. The outsider who can be spoken to in their own language will take note (Acts 2). However this effect is counteracted if everyone is so busy speaking in tongues that it appears to be a circus act rather than God the Holy Spirit at work. The outsider may be compelled to faith by finding someone who can speak her language. But only insofar as what is said is meaningful in itself, and in this respect Paul once again highlights prophecy, which encompasses more than just speaking the future, but speaking the Word of God. It is the Word of God that convicts, creates faith, and draws the hearer into repentance and grace through the good news of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

Luke 5:1-11 – Jesus does not audition disciples. There are not eager people flocking to him seeking to be his followers. Nobody has found Jesus, so to speak. Rather, He finds them. John 1 makes it clear that Jesus had already met these men near the Jordan River, outside of Jerusalem, at some time previously (perhaps a matter of a few weeks). There is a relationship already, but there is not faith. Faith only can make it clear to Peter that he does not belong in the presence of Jesus, similar to Isaiah in the presence of God. It must come from God to assure us that He has made it possible for us to be with him. He makes us worthy, rather than waiting for us to become worthy so He can approach. They are able to leave behind everything to follow the one who makes it clear that He has everything to offer. Not simply fish and sustenance as here, but ultimately eternal life (John 6:68). We need never wonder or worry if we are good enough for God. The answer to that in our own strength is always no. But we are assured by the gracious faithfulness of God that He always comes to us to make us worthy. As such, there is no past so blackened that it cannot be wiped clean and restored to innocence in the blood of Christ. There is no cry for forgiveness that is too far gone to be answered. If you wonder if Jesus can be for you, hear his words, that He has come that anyone who trusts in him will be saved (John 3:16).

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