Reading Ramblings – February 17, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany – February 17, 2019

Texts: Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:1-20; Luke 6:17-26

Context: I expanded the Epistle lesson to include the first 11 verses of chapter 15, which were noted as optional, but which I feel are essential to the line of reasoning in the next eight verses. The message of the Church is not desire of heaven nor fear of hell but rather Christ crucified and resurrected. The message of the Church is not merely inspirational, not merely devotional, not merely practical, but all of these things and more grounded first and foremost in the historical assertion that a man who claimed to be the Son of God and claimed to offer himself as a sacrifice for sin and claimed He would rise from the dead after three days actually did rise from the dead after three days, which means that all those other things He said need to be taken very, very seriously. It is easy to go to church these days in many places and hear many things, learn many things, even study the Bible but not focus on the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as the core reason for our being there. If it happened, everything has changed. If it didn’t, nothing has changed. There is no Christianity without the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. He would not be worthy of our devotion and praise for any other reason or on any other account, no matter how wise or gentle or good He might have personally been. To place our hope in a mere person, as Jeremiah asserts, is foolishness. Our hope can only be anchored in God if it is to be worth anything at all.

Jeremiah 17:5-8 – There is much talk politically about how to best care for one another. How do we best ensure the happiness of diverse people? It’s a pertinent topic to be sure, and one that does deserve and require our careful consideration and evaluation. But all such plans – which must be implemented to some degree, should be viewed ultimately with skepticism and a recognition that the best laid plans and noblest aspirations almost always devolve at some point into far more sinister things. It is not within human power to solve the ultimate problems that we face. Not as a nation, not as a species. While we can and should endeavor to improve the condition of as many as possible, it is dangerous foolishness to presume that we can do so for long, or that one solution, one candidate, one party will be able to deliver on everything they promise without any of the attendant problems and abuses that will ultimately undo their efforts. This may sound pessimistic, but it ought to be realistic. We must always be on guard against the seeds of destruction that inevitably lie within any human plan of salvation. We will not be able to guard perfectly. We should enjoy the benefits we are able to provide for one another while recognizing that ultimately God is the only sure hope of real, lasting, and perfect peace and care for all his creation.

Psalm 1 – The introductory psalm lays out the basic premise for the entirety of the psalms. God’s Word is the source of wisdom and benefit to all who ground themselves in it. In God’s Word alone is the power and comfort necessary to weather the difficulties of life and to withstand the constant allure and pressure of evil. God is the ultimate judge of all things and all people, and those who ground themselves in his Word need not fear that judgment. It places our hope completely outside of ourselves and one another, and makes God’s Word the baseline for every aspect of our lives. Failure to utilize this one and only reliable baseline will result in uncertainty and error, which inevitably will lead to evil and sorrow. God’s Word bestows what is most needful to us – God’s blessing, and the state of blessedness it creates in us.

1 Corinthians 15:1-20 – One of the most powerful of Paul’s passages, he here focuses the Corinthians on the center of the Biblical and Christian message – the proclamation of Jesus of Nazareth crucified and resurrected from the dead. This single event in human history, witnessed by hundreds of people, is the center of Christianity’s claim of Truth. It is popular in some quarters of modern Christianity to treat the Resurrection of Jesus as an afterthought, a footnote, or even an unnecessary thing. There is a desire in some quarters to spiritualize the meaning and disassociate Paul’s words here from applying to anything so palpable as a bodily resurrection. But this is exactly what Paul points to. It was the center of the message he preached to the Corinthians originally. He told them not simply to trust his word, but directed them to literally hundreds of others who could validate his claim. If Jesus was actually resurrected, then his identity and purpose as the Son of God is validated, and we have real hope that our faith in his identity and purpose will translate into our own resurrection from the dead. If Jesus was not resurrected, we have no such hope, no such reason for expecting anything. At best, Paul and the Corinthians (and by extension you and I today) would continue to be faithful Jews, following the Mosaic Covenant and awaiting the promised Messiah. This passage – particularly vs.3-11 – is also important because these particular verses are acknowledged as Paul’s even by skeptics who claim that most everything attributed to him was not written by him. While this claim is spurious, at least in these verses there is a common ground to acknowledge that Paul’s message was Christ crucified and resurrected, and this was not something added to the Gospel message by later Christians.

Luke 6:17-26 – While these are understood by many people to be words of great beauty and comfort, imagine if they were not being said with authority. How presumptuous and, at best, idealistic! They only have the power to comfort if they are actually true rather than wishful thinking. Likewise, Jesus’ warnings to those enjoying the benefits of creation at the expense of others would be little more than the threats of a child, if Jesus is not actually the Son of God, fully divine and therefore capable of warning of a judgment that truly is coming! If we remove the resurrection from Jesus’ story, then Jesus becomes just this guy, and his words become at best ineffectual, and at worst outright lies or at least inane chattering.

But if Jesus truly is the Son of God, if his death does accomplish real reconciliation with God, real defeat of evil, real forgiveness of sins, then these words become some of the most beautiful in the world, as they can be trusted. Trusted even when evil has the upper hand and it seems that it will never be stopped. Trusted even when our personal experiences don’t reflect these promises fully. There is truly hope, evil truly has been defeated and that defeat will be revealed one day. Nobody will be lost or forgotten or overlooked who placed their trust in the Son of God and his words.

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