Reading Ramblings – June 23, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 23, 2019

Texts: Isaiah 65:1-9; Psalm 3; Galatians 3:23-4:7; Luke 8:26-39

Context: After the excitement of Pentecost and Holy Trinity Sunday, we settle into the steady rhythm of the longest of the liturgical seasons – Ordinary Time. With the exception of the observance of Reformation Sunday (a Lutheran thing) on the last Sunday of October, and All Saints Day on the first Sunday of November, Ordinary Time will carry us all the way through to the end of November, and the start of the new church calendar year with Advent. Observances tied to the life of Christ give way to Gospel lessons centered largely in his teachings. The readings today all have themes of judgment, whether against God’s false people or against demons. We remember at all times that judgment is coming, and while we don’t need to fear this in Christ, we should never lose sight of the reality.

Isaiah 65:1-9 – It is easy for God’s people to get the wrong impression of themselves, to think that they are inherently good and obedient and it is for this reason that they go to church and claim Jesus as their Lord. The reality is that we are not basically good people, but basically sinful and rebellious in thought, word, and deed. This remains true for God’s people, though we should in daily repentance be constantly waging war against this sin. But equally possible is for the follower of Christ to make peace with their sin, to engage in it eagerly and without guilt and fear. This state of affairs is dangerous, both to them individually and to the church that may be influenced by them. The danger of sin is not that we cannot or will not be forgiven, but rather that we might one day prefer our sin to repentance, and ultimately reject the grace of God as unnecessary. These words at the end of Isaiah are aimed at God’s people, not those beyond his Word, and his Church today needs to hear these words and remember that we are just as capable of becoming just as lost.

Psalm 3 – Danger lurks not just within our own hearts and in church buildings but also beyond us. This psalm reads as a prayer for help against external enemies, and we might naturally assume that these are not followers of God. But verse two is interesting, and perhaps hints that it is followers of God that are also arrayed against the psalmist, convinced that either his sinfulness excludes him from the salvation of God, or that God has abandoned him and will not rescue him in his time of need. Both are dangerous assumptions to make about anyone who calls on the name of the Lord! The language shifts from present tense (vs.1-3) to past tense (vs. 4-6) and back to present tense (vs. 7-8). This may indicate that a present prayer for help is lifted in light of previously answered prayers for help. As God has preserved and helped in the past, so the psalmist reasonably expects him to again. He can therefore wait for God’s deliverance in confidence, concluding with a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord.

Galatians 3:23-4:7 – In light of readings having to do with judgment it is only reasonable that the Christian would want to know what their relationship to the Law is. Followers of Christ still sin, so how is it that the Law no longer condemns? How is it we can have hope? First and foremost we have hope for forgiveness (faith, mentioned in v.23). But this forgiveness is not merely the tit-for-tat exchange of righteousness on an piecemeal basis for individual sins. Rather, this forgiveness actually changes our entire relationship to the Law, removing us from the punitive and damning power of the Law through Jesus Christ. Christ is what has accomplished this, not through the abolition of the Law but through complete obedience to and fulfillment of the Law, which He conveys to you and I through faith. The Law remains, but we are declared holy and perfect and righteous – not on our own merits but on the merits of Christ alone. The distinctions we create between ourselves have no bearing on our salvation. Prior to Jesus the Law kept us in check and preserved us from the unrestrained evil that otherwise would have flowed from us. But Christ has now freed us, so that we are not restrained by the Law any longer. This doesn’t mean we break the Law, but rather that our natures are no longer in exclusive opposition to it. We are free now to obey the Law, to recognize it as the good gift of God that it really is. In Christ we reach our maturity, as it were, freed from forced obedience to the rules of the household, coming into our identity as heirs in the household who see the rules not as evil restrictions but the good sense of the head of the household, God the Father. When this occurs we are truly part of the family, because we are at one with the family rather than in opposition to it.

Luke 8:26-39 – This story is fascinating on so many levels. Of course the story of the demon-possessed man elicits our awe and sympathy. But also the fact that this story does not take place in Jewish territory but rather the Hellenized area on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. Note the demons’ response to Jesus’ presence. They know who Jesus is, prompting the man’s voice to identify Jesus accurately. The demons are also afraid. They recognize in Jesus the one who has the authority to command their eternal departure into the abyss, to Hell. They recognize in Jesus’ presence on earth the reality of judgment and condemnation. But this is not yet the time for that. And while it is easy for us to think that Jesus should just go ahead and deport these demons back forever to the depths of Hell, such is not the time. They are granted leniency, though some theologians think that Jesus tricks the demons by allowing them to flee to the pigs, knowing that the pigs will drown themselves and the demons will then be trapped and unable to flee. The response of the townspeople is also telling. They can see the change in the demoniac. They also see the cost. An entire herd of pigs destroyed so that one man might be free. I’m fairly certain most churches these days would see this as an irresponsible use of the gifts of God! How easy it is to put a price on the Gospel, calculating ROI and measuring out pennies grudgingly. How extravagant (and limitless!) is the generosity of God and his resources. While there is nothing wrong with being good stewards of what God has given us, we need to always remember what He has given us things for – not simply our own enjoyment or preferences, but that we might be obedient to his commands to love Him and love our neighbors. While economics are a necessity of human life, we perhaps should strive to expect God’s generosity to flow more freely as his Word is proclaimed, breaking the chains of sin and Satan and setting people free to life in Christ.

Finally, note the conclusion. The man wishes to become a disciple of Jesus and to go with him and his existing disciples. Undoubtedly this would have complicated things as the man is very likely not Jewish, and would not be accepted in Judea and Galilee. But aside from this, the man has another duty that Jesus wishes him to fulfill. Go home. Continue to be a witness to the power of God in Jesus of Nazareth. First of all in the fact that he is returned to his senses, freed from his demons. Secondly in the sharing and telling of what God has done for him. This two-fold witness to a town undoubtedly with very few Jewish people might be the first explicit evangelism outside of the people of God, and undoubtedly planted seeds that could grow and thrive when the news of the resurrection reached these people.

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