Reading Ramblings – August 11, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost ~ August 11, 2019

Texts: Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-16; Luke 12:22-34

Context: Faith is trusting the promises of God. Faith by definition means trusting despite the tangibility of those promises having yet to materialize. If I promise to give you $20 you have to trust that I will. Once I have given you the $20, trust is no longer necessary – you have not just my word but the $20. Followers of Jesus have the unique privilege of living lives of faith – trusting his Word in terms of his return and all that follows. When those promises are fulfilled we will no longer need to live by faith. We are unique in all of creation in that we can receive the promises of God and either trust them or reject them!

Genesis 15:1-6 – Abram has been following God since Genesis 12. A lot has happened since then, from relocation to the Promised land, a run-in with a Pharaoh in Egypt, a seemingly unexpected land division with his nephew, Lot, then a dramatic rescue of Lot and his family from local warlords and raiding parties, culminating with an encounter with the enigmatic Melchizedek, priest of God Most High. Abram has been richly blessed, but God has not fulfilled all of his promises, most notably the promise of an heir. Abram points this out to God. Abram isn’t getting any younger – he was 75 when God called him in Genesis 12! At this point he only has Eliezer, who may be one of his trusted servants but we have no defining information for. God’s response is not to immediately confirm his promise of an heir to Abraham, as He does definitively in Genesis 18. Rather, He reiterates his promise. Abraham has trusted so far, and is to continue to trust. He will continue to live by faith, which the author of Hebrews will interpret as a lesson for those who wait on the return of the Son of God today. We stand in a long line of people who chose to trust God’s promises.

Psalm 33:12-22 – Faith in God is a subjective response to an objective reality. God is really there. He really is in charge of all things. Faith recognizes this and seeks to live in harmony with this reality. Rejecting God and refusing to acknowledge or trust him does not alter the reality that is God and his relationship with his creation. Those that acknowledge his reign are the blessed ones (v.12). There is one nation that can be said to be truly blessed through faith in God, and that is the nation that God chose and created for himself in the Old Testament, the people and nation of Israel. That people should have, of all people in all of history, understood better God and their relationship to him. Of course, we know that this was only true to a limited extent, and given enough time, sin obscured that proper relationship and brought it to an end. We are encouraged in the final verses both individually and corporately not to let this happen to us, to keep our plans and ideas secondary to the will of God as much as humanly possible.

Hebrews 11:1-16 – Though this should be the lectio continua portion of the readings, we’re doing a fair amount of jumping around. We skipped the last chapter of Colossians and now the first 11 chapters of Hebrews! Based on the Old Testament readings from Genesis the past few weeks, this section of Hebrews makes good sense. Here Paul (the traditional author if not the universally acknowledged author) paints a picture of what faith looks like. This is helpful to us since in the preceding chapter Paul asserted that we live and are saved by faith. Now, to help substantiate this assertion he turns to the Old Testament and the patriarchs, using them as a picture of those who trusted God’s promises as they waited for fulfillment. Abel, Noah, and more centrally Abraham are all examples of people who trusted God, living their lives out actively in that faith and trust. Noah actually built the ark he was told to – what a tangible expression of faith! Abraham left his extended family to follow God’s instructions to a land God promised would be his own. He lived in that land as a sojourner rather than an owner for nearly all of his life. Paul extends his argument that while they didn’t necessarily receive everything promised to them in this lifetime, they trusted God to fulfill his promises to them ultimately. If this life is not the end, then God’s promises can be fulfilled beyond our lifetime, and our trust in no ways should be diminished as we can expect to see them fulfilled beyond our deaths.

Luke 12:22-34 – Verses 35-40 are optional for the Gospel reading and I opted to omit them. On first blush they seem to deal with a very different issue – preparation for our Lord’s return as opposed to needless worry. However the two things are very much related. Rather than worry and fret, we prepare our hearts and our minds. Rather than worry and fret about the uncertainties of life in a sinful and broken world, we center our thoughts on the assurances of our Lord. Preparation may seem a side-effect of fear or worry, but it more rightly should be the proper course of action of someone who is not at the whims of fate but rather firmly in the hand of their Creator and Redeemer.

That being said, vs. 22-34 are tailor made for our culture of worry and fear. With God and his Word now mostly removed from the public sphere and considered dangerous conversational topics, it can only follow that the void will be filled by something darker and terrifying. Without the assurances of our Creator’s constant presence and concern, we fall back on ourselves as the sole determiners of our lives. Everything becomes an opportunity for pride but more often than not a source of fear and worry. How do we prepare our children for the future? How do we ensure they get good jobs? How do we ensure they’re happy and well adjusted? For that matter, how do we ensure these things for ourselves? In a culture of affluence and plenty we focus on the fear of scarcity or failure.

Christ’s words are simple, though by no means the answer our sinful hearts would prefer. We have no control over many, many things in our lives. The more control we attempt to exert, the more we realize all the other arenas we need to apply ourselves in as well to ensure better control. It’s a cascade that can lead ultimately to despair, as evidenced by skyrocketing rates of depression and violence against self and others. Jesus simply reminds us of the truth. We have very little control. We are not called to control our lives and the lives of others but to live each day in faith and trust in our Creator. Then, whatever happens and whenever it happens, we will have peace. There is sense and order in the world, or perhaps better put, the apparent lack of sense and order in the world will no longer be a source of fear.

This is not easy! To quit worrying is difficult, at best. And Jesus is not calling for a passive disengagement with our lives, an abandonment of personal agency and responsibility. Rather He calls us to see our engagement and agency within the proper context. We are not gods. Our control is limited and imperfect. But this should not lead us to despair because there is a God who is neither limited or imperfect. In him and only in him we can rest our uncertainties and fears. The one who sent his Son to die on our behalf and raised him from the dead again as evidence of grace and forgiveness to all is ever-present, and while we may feel our lives are out of control we are never out of his hand, and therefore never need give ourselves over to despair and anxiety.

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