Reading Ramblings – September 8, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 8, 2019

Texts: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-35

Context: American Christians have grown used to the assumption that their faith is not only accepted in their culture, it is actually the guiding moral norm for our culture. As this changes, we are continually faced with drastically different definitions of normal, many of which challenge directly clear Biblical teaching. Remaining faithful to our beliefs now may well require us to stand very awkwardly apart from our culture, refusing to condone or support what it demands us to. While this is new and different for us it has by and large been the norm for most followers of Christ over the past 2000 years, to varying degrees of intensity ranging from a mild social stigmatization to arrests and even execution. We must consider carefully and seriously our faith, ensuring that our faith is not simply a complicity with our surrounding culture that negates the substance of our faith in application and makes us essentially like everyone else. We are called to be salt and light, and this will necessarily set us apart and, sometimes, make us easy targets for persecution and abuse.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 – These verses are perhaps familiar to us, but perhaps less familiar are the first 14 verses of this chapter. If 15-20 gives us the impression that the law is something we can keep perfectly, the first 14 verses make it clear it is not. God knows full well that both the blessings and the curses of the covenant are going to come into play. God’s people will not remain faithful, but God will. Repentance will lead God’s people back home not by their own renewed obedience but by the faithful grace of God. This is the life being offered in Moses’ eloquent speech. Not a life of constant fear of the Law, but a life looking forward to the grace and goodness of God. The Law is to be taken seriously, but we will fail. God however, never fails. And so it is that God is rightly attributed as the source of life and length of days in v.20, rather than the obedience of his people.

Psalm 1 – This psalm sets the tone for the entire collection of psalms to follow. It sets forth the fundamental premise which will be explored in various ways through the rest of the psalms – the Word of God is the way of life, and all other options only lead to death. The opening two verses simply state this as a reality. The Word of God is the source of blessedness. Anyone or anything that counsels otherwise is wicked by definition. The natural effects of grounding oneself in God’s Word are a depth of strength and resilience that is not affected by the ups and downs of life. This is to be contrasted with the transience and lack of substance of the wicked, who are easily dispersed on the breeze like chaff. Chaff is an integral part of the grain plant, and seems every bit as vibrant and resilient as the grain it protects – until the harvest. At that time it is only the grain that has value, while the chaff dries up and is burned as fuel. This metaphor carries through the final two verses. On the day of judgment, the righteous will be separated from the unrighteous just as grain is separated from chaff during the threshing. It would no more be possible for the wicked to remain with the righteous during judgment than it would be for the dry, brittle chaff to remain with the grain during threshing.

Philemon – What does living by the Law of God look like? It doesn’t always look like we imagine it to. We may picture it as prohibiting us from violence or sexual misconduct, we may picture it as demanding our attendance in worship and guarding our choice of expletives. But the Word of God goes far deeper than this, and penetrates the way we do and approach everything, even our approach to economics. Paul writes to return a slave to his rightful master, and asks the master to be lenient in receiving him back. Some people are angry that Paul does not demand the master free the slave. That’s our understanding of what righteousness looks like. But freeing a slave does not alter the attitude of the master’s heart towards him. It is conceivable that freeing his slave might actually be detrimental to Onesimus – leaving him without a means of supporting himself. Rather, Paul calls both Onesimus and Philemon to a deeper application of God’s Word that demands love of neighbor, overcoming and setting aside personal issues to strive for true reconciliation. As brothers and sisters in Christ we expect to share eternity together – how can we allow anything temporal to affect how we treat one another here and now? The Kingdom of God is not simply a far off thing, but something that is lived out today – imperfectly to be sure, but just as seriously as though the King were on his earthly throne visible already!

Luke 14:25-35 – Following God’s Word, incarnate in the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, is not without cost. It would be much easier at times to do things the way the world does, to allow the world’s understanding of things to guide our own thoughts and actions. Our assumption that the life of faith will be easy and lead to the same sorts of benefits as others around us who aren’t following Christ is dangerous. There may be times when in order to be faithful we need to forego some of the goals or means taken for granted by those around us. This in turn will lead to real repercussions, whether socially or financially or even legally. We need to not only keep this in mind, we need in a very real sense to expect it. It’s easy for “great crowds” to follow Jesus as though on some extended picnic. But what happens when the Roman soldiers show up? What happens when the religious authorities kick them out of the synagogues (John 9:22)? What happens when they encounter persecution from friends and family and their community for their acceptance of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16)?

What happens when the Biblical Word on human life contradicts what our society decides is right? What happens when our friends – or even family members! – quit associating with us because we’re narrow-minded or judgmental or unloving in our refusal to agree with everything society demands of us? Or what about refusing to lie or cheat in order to gain a financial advantage? What about refusing to raise our kids with the same standards of those around us? What about challenging school systems when they attempt to indoctrinate our children and grandchildren with ideas that are clearly contrary to Scripture? What about the need to forego a preferred vocational field because Christians aren’t allowed to follow their religious convictions?

Who can bear these things on their own!? How important it is to have brothers & sisters in Christ around us to encourage us in the midst of suffering and loss. Together we can encourage one another not to simply accept whatever society claims we must. Together we can help one another retain our saltiness, our distinctness from the world around us every bit as much as the Old Testament rules were intended to keep the Hebrews distinct from the surrounding cultures.

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