Reading Ramblings – February 16, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany ~ February 16, 2020

Texts: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 119:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37

Context: The Word of God. It guides us in life and to life. It is the only reliable baseline definition of good and evil. The only unchanging rule to which we can entrust ourselves completely. But when we think we have mastered the Word, plumbed the depths of what it tells us and gives us and commands us, we find there is so much more still to hear, receive, and obey. The Word gives comfort but never a comfort grounded in our ears or hands or hearts, but only in the Son of God who, as He told us himself last week, comes to fulfill the Law and prophets because we cannot.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 – Moses’ parting words to the people of God he has reluctantly led for decades in the wilderness are coming to an end. Moses will shortly end his address, dictate the Law to be written down, and indicate Joshua as his successor. Then he will praise God, bless God’s people one final time, and make his way one last time up a mountain to gaze on the inheritance he cannot receive but the people will. He has seen, prophetically, much of what will happen in the years and decades and centuries to come. He knows God’s people will continue to disobey, continue to take for granted his mercies, continue to rebel in their hearts. He exhorts them, though, as a true prophet must, in spite of what else he might know. He exhorts them to life, and life is found only in obedient relationship to the God who created them. There will be many ideas in the centuries to come about what is right or wrong, prudent or rash. Many different voices claiming to know the way, the truth, or the life. But only the commandments of God can offer a reliable guide. They alone are trustworthy – more so than even the best of intentions which might seek to set them aside just briefly. To follow them means life. To ignore them means death. It doesn’t get any simpler or clearer, though it may not always be easy.

Psalm 119:1-8 – The great acrostic psalm, all 176 verses sprawled across 22 octets, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet and all extolling the word of God. Truly God’s word is the reliable source of right and wrong, and the one who can follow it perfectly would be truly and completely blessed! Yet the best we can do is resolve to be obedient and steadfast in our resolution.. But our resolve is weak and our resolution often fails us, leaving us to cry to God for mercy, and not to forsake us in our sin. It is not by looking to our own obedience that we can have confidence in God’s abiding mercy, though. For that we need to look to Jesus, to the only one to perfectly fulfill the Word of God, and to offer his perfect obedience to us through our baptism in faith.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9 – Unfortunately this is the last piece of 1 Corinthians we will read in order as part of the lectio continua. Transfiguration Sunday next week is the last regular Sunday before Lent begins, when our readings will focus us towards Holy Week and our Lord’s great sacrifice on our behalf. Paul’s words last week warning against the untrustworthiness of worldly wisdom compared to the folly of Christ crucified allows him to circle back to what he started to talk about at the start of his letter in Chapter 1 – the divisions among the Corinthians based on which evangelist or apostle different people followed or preferred. Such divisions are not the mind of Christ (2:16) but reveal a very immature worldliness. Rather than accepting the things of the Spirit they cling to their human ways of evaluating things – judging the message in part by the eloquence of the messenger. Paul is serious here. He fully expects the Corinthians – who possess the Holy Spirit in faith – to be able to listen to the Holy Spirit’s leading and discern the Holy Spirit’s wisdom. Their inability to do this is not because they are not equipped otherwise, but because they insist on clinging to the ways of the world. Paul is building to a point – it isn’t just that the Corinthians have preferences among evangelists and apostles. The reality is that many of them have decided that Paul – who brought them the Gospel initially – should be replaced in this place of honor with others who are more handsome or more well-spoken. Paul’s apostolic authority is being challenged, and before he can call the Corinthians to obedience in the remainder of his letter he needs to remind them of not just who he is but who called him to his ministry. It is the Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ that supercedes all other words, and it is Christ himself who calls Paul to be his messenger, and the Corinthians should think twice before they decide they don’t need to listen to him any longer.

Matthew 5:21-37 – Jesus has just warned his disciples and the crowd around them not to place their confidence and faith in their obedience of the Law. Undoubtedly they all nod their heads. Of course their confidence is in the grace and mercy of God! But then Jesus begins to speak to these children of God, this chosen people. You have heard it said you shall not murder. Of course they have heard. And already their hearts rise in pride. We have obeyed this command! We have never murdered! Then Jesus continues, But I say to you and the pride disappears into uncertainty and fear. Is that what God means? Not just what I do but what I think and feel? This is not good news.

Jesus is not finished yet. You have heard it said you shall not commit adultery. Again this crowd of religious people nod their heads. Perhaps not as many of them, but most of them. We’ve never committed adultery. And once again Jesus continues But I say to you…and again fear and ashes where a moment ago was pride and confidence.

We know we aren’t to place our confidence in our own righteousness but we secretly do, checking and comparing with others, assuming we stack up just as well and perhaps a bit better. We run for the cover of grace and forgiveness in our failures, but easily hop on our high horses again when we’re feeling better, more confident in our righteousness. But this too is forgiven. This too is laid on our Savior who comes to do what we cannot so we might be saved. The Law works on us, drives us to despair and confession and the sweet absolution and forgiveness that come only from the Gospel of Jesus Christ and never from our own righteousness.

We must read this section of Jesus’ teaching linked to the previous section and the previous assertion that the Law does not pass away and we dare not attempt to lay it aside for ourselves or others, but rather look to the one who fulfilled it completely.

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