Reading Ramblings – August 25, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 25, 2019

Texts: Isaiah 66:18-23; Psalm 50:1-15; Hebrews 12:4-24; Luke 13:22-30

Context: Our relationship to God is one not simply of creature to Creator – that would appear to more accurately describe the relationship between all other living species on Earth and God. Rather, human beings created in the image of God (imago dei) are invited into a personal relationship with him that makes us his children. And as children, we should expect discipline from our heavenly Father just as parents are expected to discipline their children. Once upon a time such a concept was common sense. But years of psychological theories have reduced the willingness and ability of parents to discipline their children. Remembering their own discipline experiences in their youth, they overlook the long-term character formation created in moments of transitory, unpleasant discipline, and vow not to discipline their children. In foregoing temporary unpleasantness, long-term character issues become not just possible but likely. Our readings remind us that discipline from our Creator (and therefore from our parents) is a gift, not child abuse.

Isaiah 66:18-23 – The people of God are always apt to adopt an exclusionary attitude towards those outside the faith. But God’s intention and desire is that all might be saved, and to that end works unceasingly towards reaching all nations and peoples with his Good News of Jesus the Christ. Our apathy must always bear correction from our Creator, a reality which is unpleasant as it forces us out of our comfortable routines to question seriously how to follow God the Holy Spirit’s promptings. It is God the Father’s good pleasure that everyone – not just Hebrews – receive the Good News of Jesus Christ and turn to him in faith and trust. As they do, they become full co-heirs with God’s existing faithful, not just second-rate newcomers. We must continually check our own hearts and the hearts of our faith community to ensure we are not allowing ourselves to become indifferent to God’s plans, both for ourselves and in the lives of those who have yet to hear of him.

Psalm 50:1-15 – The Lord’s discipline will come to all of Creation, either as a refining fire that purifies, or as the fire of destruction. God’s faithful should expect that they will feel the refining fire, and we are dangerously mistaken if we presume even our acts of worship and obedience to be completely free from sin and error. We seek always to worship God in fullness and truth, acknowledging that the sin within us keeps us from doing even this correctly, and further acknowledging that we are prone to going through the motions, or enshrining practices we consider pleasing to God that may well not be. What God desires is the sacrifice of our hearts and minds and wills not in mindlessness but in active, searching, joyful obedience to his will and Word. We should not presume that our tithe checks or our estate planning are what satisfies God – He who created and owns all things has no personal need for our assets, whether firstfruits or leftovers. But He desires our day be day leaning on him as both our wisdom and strength as true acts of worship and adoration.

Hebrews 12:4-24 – The Lord’s discipline will be, by definition, undesired and unpleasant. Whatever contradicts our willfullness we seek to avoid. And whatever pain or discomfort we might experience we presume to be solely from Satan. But God chastises and disciplines those He loves. We are to see this discipline as good, then, shaping us for eternity and beginning the process of burning away the dross and impurities from our lives. It will not be easy or pleasant, necessarily. Therefore we must strengthen ourselves and those around us for God’s discipline, that we might bear up under it not in cursing and confusion but in continued trust and reliance on the one who sustains all Creation. What we are being prepared for is nothing less than the presence of the Holy One, the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier of all things. We are being prepared for communion not only with the saints who have gone before us but with angels and all the hosts of heaven. Are we ready for such a union? Hardly! Therefore rather than speculate on the nature or source of the burdens and struggles in our lives, we continue to bear up under them as faithful children promised the kingdom of God, and knowing that even the work of Satan in attacks against us can be used by God the Holy Spirit to make us that much closer to readiness for our eternal glory in Christ.

Luke 13:22-30 – In direct contradiction of our cultural mantra today that everyone is essentially good, Jesus makes it clear this is not the case by a long shot. Our random and inconsistent and selfish acts of kindness to others are hardly the holiness and righteousness our Lord created us for! Moreover, Jesus makes it plain that not even all those who consider them to be his people are actually his people! Some of those who think they are followers of Christ are in fact not, and will be denied entrance to eternity. Simply having your name on the membership roster at church does not make you a follower of Christ. Relying exclusively on the grace of your baptism when the entire rest of your life has been lived in denial or ignorance of that baptism does not automatically include you in the redeemed.

Does Jesus seek here to rattle our faith? Of course not. But He does intend that we should consider our faith soberly and seriously, and we should be active – striving – in our lives of faith to take seriously the Word of God as it guides and directs. The life of faith is never one of rest and satisfaction. While we don’t live in fear and anxiety, neither do we reach a place where we ‘retire’ from an active faith, assuming that all we’ve done already is enough to sustain our faith in Christ. It is not simply the young who can wander away from the faith through spiritual apathy – it happens to the elderly as well!

Each day, each week should be a celebration of Christ’s work on our behalf and the Holy Spirit’s continued work within us. Each day and week should include times of self-examination. Are we apathetic or anemic? Do we prefer our little creature comforts over the Word of God and his Sacraments? Do we assume that we’re good enough, and no longer need these things, or that God doesn’t really provide them to us for good reason? These are dangerous paths to wander down. Our works do not save us, but how we prioritize our time and money and thoughts goes a long way towards showing us what really matters in our lives.

The road is, in fact, narrow. Not because God’s grace is limited, but because our sinfulness is so deadly real and serious that it continually strives to lead us away from that narrow road into fields of poppies (or worse yet, flying monkeys!) that ultimately prove to be dangerous and even fatal. Together, the people of God set our eyes on the promised new Jerusalem and the Word of God that alone can lead us through the sinfulness of this world and the sinfulness of our own heart by the power of the death and resurrection of the Son of God to life everlasting.

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