Reading Ramblings – October 6, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 6, 2019

Texts: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; Psalm 62; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:1-10

Context: American culture is not much interested in waiting. We want what we want right now, and are unwilling to wait for it. Microwaves cook our food. And while instant coffee is no longer quite so fashionable, we’re quick to pick up a cup at Starbucks rather than brew our own. So as Christians wait for God’s response to suffering and ultimately evil, his timing appears laboriously slow. Why not fix things now? God assures us through the ancient voice of Habakkuk that his timing is not deliberately slow or delayed, but is always perfect.

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 – Habakkuk is one of the most enigmatic of the prophets, with scholars for centuries arguing about who he was, when he lived, and the nature of his message. Arguments abound for nearly every conceivable interpretation. But the oldest Jewish and Christian traditions claim that Habakkuk writes towards the end of the seventh century, within just a few years of the Babylonian destruction of Judah and Jerusalem. Habakkuk’s words in chapter one could be our own, as we survey the cultural landscape of our own country as well as the world around us. Reports of violence seem to increase weekly. Sin is celebrated as righteousness. We grow increasingly polarized, unable and unwilling to listen to opposing points of view. Justice seems slow at best, missing at worst. When will the Lord answer the prayers of his faithful people who suffer in such a world? The Lord responds by giving Habakkuk a vision he is to write down or even draw so that it might be easily understood. That vision is coming. It will arrive in God’s perfect timing. The important thing is for God’s people to wait faithfully, trusting his promise.

Psalm 62 – God alone is worthy of our trust, this psalm proclaims. The repetition of key phrases in verses 1-2 and again in vs. 5-6 guide the assembly in this assertion, a necessary reminder to all people in all times and places. How easy it is to think we can find our true help elsewhere, whether in laws or freedoms, in governments or economies. God alone is unshakable. All others are transient and insubstantial (v.9). Silence in this psalm does not mean verbal silence (since we are commanded to pray to God in v.8, but rather a stillness and calmness. We determine not to be moved and agitated by whatever is going on around us or whatever is being done to us. God alone holds ultimate authority, and his judgment in our regard cannot be contradicted for long. Some worry that the final line of the psalm indicates that our works are what save us. But works within the Biblical context are only worthy of commendation in faith, and it is the faith which saves us and makes our works pleasing to God. Without faith, no amount of good works is possible, nor can those works alone save a person.

2 Timothy 1:1-14 – Frankly I wish we had continued in 1 Timothy as there is plenty of good material there. Perhaps the powers that be are a bit nervous that people will compare the requirements for a shepherd/overseer/pastor with the person in the pulpit! In any event, I’m not in charge so now we’re starting 2 Timothy. Paul introduces the letter, indicating himself as author and Timothy as recipient. The tone is deeply personal and affectionate. It is likely Timothy is undergoing some struggle or adversity, though the tears mentioned in v.4 could easily be tears shed at their last parting. Timothy may be undergoing a struggle and Paul encourages him in his faith v.6, and exhorts him not to fear but rather to love and self-control. To at least some degree, by the grace of God the Holy Spirit we can choose how we respond to difficult things in our lives and Paul reminds Timothy of this. Likely Timothy is suffering persecution for the faith and perhaps specifically for association with Paul. Paul therefore reminds him to not be ashamed either of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, nor of Paul despite the fact that he is now in chains as he awaits a hearing from the Emperor. Paul himself is not ashamed (v.12), based on his knowledge of Jesus. He knows Jesus not in some intangible sense but is fully convinced that despite his current condition and the possible outcomes of his trial, his Lord will ensure that he is kept safe to declare the Gospel until the time appointed by God for his death. As Paul perseveres, he calls Timothy to do the same by looking to him as a model. Keep the faith!

Luke 17:1-10 – These verses bring to a close an extended narrative section in Luke that began at 14:25. These teachings are addressed to Jesus’ inner circle, which likely included not just the 12 Apostles but the 72 followers that Jesus sent out in Chapter 10. First He warns against those who would cause others to stumble in their faith. This could include either by tempting another to sin, or by leading another to renounce the faith through some action of the other person. Yet also forgiveness is to be taken seriously, even to a degree that seems ludicrous (see Matthew 18:21-35). This elicits a strong response from the disciples – who can be so forgiving with others?! Jesus in turn assures them they have enough faith to do what He commands. The final section is unique to Luke’s gospel. While they already possess the faith necessary to do amazing things – something they will experience again firsthand after Jesus’ resurrection, they are not to lose sight of their identity as slaves from whom humility is expected. Any power they display is not theirs, but rather is the work of the Holy Spirit in and through them and therefore there is no room for them to brag or exalt themselves.

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