Reading Ramblings – August 18, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 18, 2019

Texts: Jeremiah 23:16-29; Psalm 119:81-88; Hebrews 11:17-12:3; Luke 12:49-56

Context: There’s a scene in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe early on as the children – minus Edward – are given hospitality by an old beaver couple. Here the children learn a bit about Aslan and some of their misunderstanding is dispelled. Aslan is not a person, but a lion. Understandably this causes some fear, verbalized by the oldest girl, Susan, who asks if Aslan is safe. Mr. Beaver’s response is direct – Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you. The readings for this week immediately made me think of this exchange. How often we wish (or assume!) that God is safe and tame, at our beck and call. How often we wish God were an oversize cat, one who doesn’t always do what we want but this makes him endearing to us, knowing eventually he will come ’round when it’s dinner time. Instead, the image of God as a lion is far more accurate. And while this reality should ultimately be far more comforting, it is not without a strong disconcerting streak as well. Our attempts to domesticate God only do violence to ourselves.

Jeremiah 23:16-29 – Speaking the Word of God is different than any other kind of speech, and it is correspondingly tempting to set aside God’s Word in favor of words that are easier to hear, easier to swallow. Words that don’t rock the boat and don’t push people for more than they want to hear. But such talk, while attractive to both the speaker and the hearer, is unfaithful. God is at war with evil in this world and within ourselves and offers no quarter. We are never to presume that God’s intention is our mere comfort. We are part of his purposes, not the other way around. And while we can and should always trust that God’s purposes are perfect and holy and always for our ultimate good, it may well be that we must deal with a great deal of discomfort and temporary unhappiness. In the meantime, the one who speaks God’s Word must seek to do so faithfully, properly distinguishing between the Word of God and the speaker’s ideas so that the hearers can distinguish the two and ensure that God’s Word always takes precedence in their lives.

Psalm 119:81-88 – Despite it being the most prominent psalm (in terms of length), this is the first time we’ve drawn from it in this liturgical year. It is an acrostic, with a separate eight-line section for each of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This section is the letter kaph, which corresponds roughly to our K in terms of a hard C sound. If you look at these verses in Hebrew, you’ll see that each verse starts with this letter. This section poses a situation of longing for God’s response and deliverance. The speaker is in a difficult position and is being persecuted by others. This is not a life of comfort and ease! But it is a life of faith and trust in God. So the speaker can call to God and ask for his help and wonder aloud when that help will arrive. Though the temptation to forsake God’s Word and way in favor of tactics that are not righteous but could help is real, the speaker commits himself to God’s Word and way; they alone can be trusted! The section ends without resolution, but remains steadfast in anticipation of the Lord’s help.

Hebrews 11:17-12:3 – The list of faithful Biblical examples continues from last week. Each called upon to respond in faith to the promises of others as well as God. None of them protected from the harsh realities of being sinful people in a sinful world, but each being called to place their faith and trust in the God who created all things and is restoring and redeeming all things. Each of them, like us, received part of what they were promised, but awaited the full completion of those promises, something attained ultimately and only through Jesus Christ. We are not exceptional in being called to live by faith, but we are blessed with a cloud of witnesses who have gone before us to both show what faithfulness looks like, and to affirm that God is faithful to his promises.

Luke 12:49-56 – Once again we are confronted with words that contradict any image of Jesus as weak or pacifistic or otherwise too timid to raise a commotion. He understands perfectly the nature of his ministry. His ministry is the focusing of God’s wrath against sin and evil – focused in on Jesus himself as He takes on our sin and evil into himself. This is the fire of God the Father’s judgment that falls first and fully on Jesus, so that all of humanity might be spared in faithfulness. Those who will not receive this gift in faith, however, will feel that judgment fire themselves. Those who accept the gift in faith will also feel the fire of God, but not as a destructive, judgmental fire but as a refining flame that gradually purifies us through our lives in anticipation of our complete and perfect purification when our Lord returns.

Jesus has been baptized in water already, but anticipates his baptism on the cross, his ministry framed in water and in blood just as water and blood pour from his pierced heart, and how John asserts that it is water and blood that testify to Jesus’ work and person (1 John 5:6-8). As he awaits this final consummation of his incarnate work, he is under anticipation as well as dread.

All of this to offer us hope, but not peace. He comes to defeat evil but evil will continue in the throes of death after Jesus’ ascension and until his return. Jesus’ perfect sacrificial act will be the centerpoint of all created history, dividing those who believe from those who don’t and creating continual conflict that will penetrate to the most intimate of settings – the home and family. Jesus does not desire this, but our sinfulness makes it inevitable. Jesus has no illusions about how this will play out in some situations.

Verses 54-56 are linked with the following verses logically (but tragically not in the lectionary!). As Jesus journeys with his disciples and the crowds, he reminds them they are on a journey as well, quite literally a journey to appear before a judge. If that is the case, the reality that we as creatures will one day stand before the Creator, it should be obvious that we should be preparing for this encounter, and recognizing the signs it is getting closer. Jesus’ ministry in word and power should be an obvious sign to them that something is afoot, that the kingdom of God is at hand and therefore their encounter with the judge is fast approaching!

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