Reading Ramblings – March 31, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 31, 2019

Texts: Isaiah 12:1-6; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Context: We cross the threshold past the midway point of Lent. Since Holy Week is now accentuated as a somewhat separate entity from the rest of Lent, there is only one more Sunday of regular Lent. The readings today emphasize the great grace and forgiveness of God the Father. His promises to a broken and rebellious creation move past who we are now, to who we become through faith and trust in his promises of amnesty and forgiveness, offered through the condition of faith in our Redeemer, the Son of God Jesus the Christ. No confession of sin or self-examination is proper unless it proceeds to the word of absolution and promise of transformation that originates not from within ourselves but externally from our Creator. It is not good enough for us to reimagine ourselves in our own image, but we must be remade by the God who created us to be in the image of his Son.

Isaiah 12:1-6 – A refreshing pause in the words of judgment and discipline in the majority of Chapters 1-10. Chapter 11 promised a transformation – after discipline and hardship that all but seems to destroy God’s people, there will be a new creation. Rooted in past promises and history and identity but seemingly a miraculous new creation, a shoot that rises from the stump of Jesse. What will our response be in that day? Joy. Thanksgiving. Peace. Not fear but trust. No longer vulnerable and exposed but now sheltered and protected. This is not something that we accomplish but something that God will provide to his people. So great will this be that all nations will recognize it as the work of God, but the greatest rejoicing and proclamation will be among and from his own people – at last.

Psalm 32 – A psalm of relief – the relief that can only come through brutal honesty and confession, so that only then can the hidden sin be healed and forgiven. We fight this, thinking that somehow secrecy will bring us more comfort than exposure but David knows the inward agony of hidden guilt. And he now also knows the liberation and healing that comes from confession and accepting the Lord’s word of forgiveness. The simple statement at the end of verse 5 changes everything – And you forgave the guilt of my sin. No more silent, secret suffering. No more fear. Only forgiveness. David then exhorts the faithful in vs. 6-7 to give God praise and trust in him alone rather than their machinations. Only God can sing the song of deliverance that truly does deliver. Are verses 8-10 still David speaking, or God? I hear the voice of God, who is the only one able and willing to fully keep his loving eye upon us. But a reasonable argument could be made that David the formerly unfaithful king is now David speaking as the proper king, the proper servant of God who as king is responsible for ensuring his people know the will and way of God and are able to pursue it. Verse 8 is a beautiful summary of the true and best purpose of any government. The alternative to willingly receiving the Word of God is to be brought to it kicking and screaming. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, but not everyone will come willingly! Yet how beautiful for those who receive God now, and can trust in him now!

2 Corinthians 5:16-21 – In Christ we are no longer the same and cannot regard one another the same way. The past is not eliminated but transformed. The disciples knew Jesus as an extraordinary teacher and wonder-worker, but after his resurrection from the dead this was no longer an adequate category for him. Now they better understand who He really was and is and will be all along, and they regard him now as this – Lord and Master and Redeemer and Son of God. Similarly with you and I. Our pasts may not be picture perfect, but when we come to the forgiveness of Christ our past no longer defines us, as St. Paul knew and experienced firsthand. He is not speaking figuratively – he has shown how transformative the power of the risen Christ can be in a person’s life. Would any still dare to regard Paul as Saul, the persecutor of the Church? This is only possible through the power of Christ, who truly can and does transform. It isn’t pretend. It isn’t uncertain. It may be imperfect, but it is real and true. This is not self-improvement on our terms but re-creation in Christ on his terms, and his terms are best because He has known us since the dawn of creation and knows who we are created to be. The ministry of reconciliation that Paul speaks of is first and foremost reconciliation to God (v.20). This will naturally extend itself in reconciliation towards one another and creation itself, but it must originate in reconciliation to God, meaning the acceptance of God’s conciliatory offering on our behalf, the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ. This is what accomplishes our change, and what will complete it on the day of our Lord’s return.

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 – The premise for the stories that comprise chapter 15 and part of chapter 16 are the complaints of the religious teachers and devout Jews that Jesus not only welcomes sinners but eats with them. Their understanding of holiness was one of separation, an extension of the ritual laws that governed clean and unclean status for objects and sometimes for people based on particular circumstances. Eating with a sinner would, according to their theology, make them ritually unclean, would tarnish their holiness and ritual cleanliness. Jesus does not share this perspective. He criticized the religious for this misunderstanding in Chapter 11. He addresses the issue again here. The father is not compromised by his love for his wayward son. Any reasonable person would be amazed at the father’s love and care for his son despite his son’s cruelty and selfishness! So it is with God and sinners. Welcoming sinners to himself does not lessen God’s holiness but rather accentuates it and further demonstrates his almost incomprehensible holiness. If parents struggle with loving a wayward child, and if we can’t fault them for this but empathize with them, how much more immense is the love of God towards his sinful, corrupted, rebellious creation – including you and I! How incredible that he does not simply stand waiting for us to acknowledge our failures and grovel for his mercy, but rather runs to meet us with arms open. Our words of apology are almost pointless now that we are in his arms again, and our sin is smothered and washed away by his generosity and love.

This is the love that Lent drives us to remember. We focus on our sin but not towards abjection, rather ultimately and best towards a fuller and more astonished inkling of God’s great love for us. That He would sacrifice the brightest and best of the sons of the morning for the absolute worst of us, those that we would be unwilling to dirty our hands with, that we would be unwilling to even sit down at the same table with or be seen even conversing with them or acknowledging their existence. In our culture of polarization and rejection of anyone who disagrees with us, what an incredible example of true love which is always humble and not selfish. Our God does not merely welcome and eat with sinners, He invites us to live with him for eternity having been forgiven and cleansed not with our imperfect words, but with the blood of the perfect sacrifice, the fattened calf, the Son of God.

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