Reading Ramblings – June 30, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday after Pentecost ~ June 30, 2019

Texts: 1 Kings 19:9b-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62

Context: Followers of Christ are called to be just that – followers. Those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord also confess that they are not Lord. But the living of that reality is considerably more challenging than we might like. We expect or desire God to act in certain ways but He remains stubbornly resistant to our attempts to second guess or control him. We can either resign ourselves to the reality of having a God and a Lord, understanding our proper place and role, or we can spend our lives in attempts to either deny him or usurp him.

1 Kings 19:9b-21 – God’s question is superfluous. God already has the answer, as God himself brought Elijah to this cave at Mt. Horeb, where God revealed his covenant to Israel hundreds of years earlier. But does Elijah know the answer? At the place where God gave his people the covenant, Elijah complains before God that God’s people have abandoned that covenant. Elijah is certain that he is the last of the faithful ones, despite the fact that not long beforehand, there were many Israelites who responded to Elijah’s call to seize the prophets of Baal so that he might execute them. Now God comes to Elijah, testing whether Elijah himself is able to discern the Lord’s presence as he claims. Elijah recognizes the Lord not in power and majesty and might, but in the unlikely low whisper. Likewise, Elijah is led to understand that while the Lord’s power may not be evident, He is still at work in some of his people. Elijah is not the last or the only one, nor even the greatest of God’s people, necessarily. What Elijah has not accomplished, God will accomplish through others that Elijah is only the messenger for. Elijah obeys God in humility, knowing that the purpose and plan of God must naturally be much greater than Elijah’s own desires for personal vindication or glory.

Psalm 16 – We read this one barely two months ago! Not that the psalm is bad, but again, with 150 to choose from, I’d like to think that we wouldn’t be repeating psalms within a given 52-week period! Not that it’s a bad psalm, mind you. Verses one and two are critical. God is not one of many options, He is the only option. One is reminded of Peter’s response to Jesus recorded in John 6:68 – Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Those who refuse to acknowledge this will eventually suffer the consequences (v.4). Only in God can we have true blessing and hope, can we find true wisdom, and can we hope for something beyond the grave. The blessings of God are not simply psychological well-being in this life, but literally eternal blessings. What appears to many as foolishness or wishful thinking is actually the only source of real, true, eternal joy.

Galatians 5:1, 13-25 – What is freedom? Is freedom simply the ability to do whatever I want? If we are free, isn’t it contradictory to heed a call to stand firm, a command not to submit to a yoke of slavery. What if I want that slavery? Doesn’t my freedom allow me to do so? No. Because our freedom does not consist in the exercising of our will or desire, but in conforming our will and desire to our Lord, to the one who has bought us with his blood (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This is because we acknowledge that our will and desire is flawed and incapable of leading us to freedom on its own. Freedom consists oddly enough in being slaves, something Paul brings home in v. 25. He provides a good overview of what our lives should be like and what they should not be like in vs. 13-24. But the rationale for valuing one set of things over the others is given at the last, v.25. In other words, we are not choosing Christ because of a superior set of moral imperatives – though to be sure they are just that! – or because his way of living lines up better with our own. Rather, we are chosen in Christ. Christ does not belong to us, as though we have acquired him. Rather, we belong to Christ, as He has acquired us through his sacrificial death and by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God bringing us to faith that Jesus really is the Son of God and therefore really does command our lives. Once again, God doesn’t act as we expect, allowing us to find and choose him. Rather He finds and chooses us, then empowers us to live lives that truly set us free from our slavery to our sinfulness and brokenness.

Luke 9:51-62 – Faith would be simpler if the effects of receiving it were so obvious. Reject Jesus? Boom! Instant fire from heaven! Yet this isn’t how Jesus works. He not only does not affirm their desire, He rebukes them for even considering it! A strong word used frequently in the New Testament to indicate a strong rebuttal and rejection of what was just said or done. Of course you aren’t going to call down fire from heaven! What in the world could you possibly be thinking?! Pride. The desire for acclaim or respect, there are all sorts of motivations we can confuse with the will of God. We want God to act in ways that make us look good. If God doesn’t vindicate us, completely eliminate our enemies, it’s easy for us to mistake that for a failure either on our part or God’s part – like Elijah facing Jezebel’s wrath or the disciples irritated with the Samaritans (who they were inclined to dislike anyways) – and despair. And we are more prone to getting wrapped up in our issues so that the call to obedience can seem faint and weak. Every bit as faint and weak as our good intentions – or our alleged good intentions. I’ll follow you anywhere! Oh really? This isn’t a campaign for earthly glory or gain – you may want to reevaluate your conviction. Let me first go and bury my father. Oh really? Are you sure you’re not just using an excuse to put off obedience to your Lord? Let me go and finish my family obligations, Lord. Oh really? Be careful what you claim to commit to. It’s easy to talk big with no follow-through.

Having a Lord is something we fundamentally as American Christians don’t understand. We have no other point of comparison in our lives. We easily mistake complacency for obedience, comfort for dedication. We presume that God is not calling us to certain things that are socially unacceptable or personally distasteful, while being quick to deny the grace and love of God exists for those that we find socially unacceptable or personally distasteful. We’re quick to claim grace and forgiveness for ourselves but deny them to those we disagree with or deem undeserving.

Fortunately, our God is gracious and merciful to us even in the midst of our sinful attempts – consciously or unconsciously – to control him. Lord, forgive us our errors, and continue to illuminate them so we might conspire with your Holy Spirit to abandon them. Amen.

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