Reading Ramblings – June 21, 2020

Date: Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 14, 2020 – COVID-19

Texts: Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 91; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:16-33

Context: Faithfulness to God will sometimes put us at odds with a world around us still enslaved to Satan and sin.

Jeremiah 20:7-13 – The prophet Jeremiah is appointed by God the Holy Spirit to speak a hard word to the people of Judah, a warning of destruction, of exile to Babylon. It is not a popular message, nor one that makes any sense to those who comfort themselves as the people of God. Surely God would never allow his chosen people to be humiliated! Jeremiah is publicly beaten and humiliated for the message he brings (vs. 1-3). How difficult it must be for Jeremiah to suffer only for speaking the true Word of God! How frustrating it must be to have his words fall not just on deaf ears but actively hostile ears! Jeremiah deals with this pain vocally in the verses for this morning (vs.7-10), stating his situation to God before, no doubt by the power of the Holy Spirit, he also speaks his consolation (vs.11-13), reminders of the God he serves and who cannot be overcome by the machinations of men. So you and I are called to faithful trust in our God who lives and reigns regardless of how the nations or our neighbors may rail against his Word.

Psalm 91 – God is our mighty fortress. He is the rock to which we cling, and also the rock upon which we build our lives. He is there for us always and in all things, not simply in those moments of terror or panic or uncertainty. He was present before the Coronavirus, He is with us now, and He will continue to be with his creation until our Lord’s return and the renewing or recreation of all things in unity under God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit once again. What is there we have to fear in this life? Those blessed with old age talk aboiut how quickly life goes, and it’s true. Yet we look forward to eternity! If our lives here and now are not all we hoped or expected them to be, all is not lost! If we are subjected to turbulence and uncertainty despite all our careful plannings and preparations, all is not lost! If we fall prey to sickness or disease, to war or any number of other dangers, all is not lost! We do not live in fear of the tragedies in life nor do we allow the blessings in life to eclipse our identity in Christ and our eternal destination.

Romans 6:12-23 – Having laid out faith in Jesus Christ as the means of salvation apart from adherence to the Law, Paul now has to clarify what he’s talking about. Does that mean the person in Christ ignores the law? Does it mean – if God’s grace increases to account for or sin – that we should sin more in order to give God greater glory in being even more gracious and merciful to us? It sounds funny, but it’s a logical conclusion people in Paul’s day and our own have come to – usually in rejecting the Bible and Christ as illogical.

Obviously, this is not the point Paul is getting at in any way. Christians are not exempt from the Law, but the Law wields a different power in the life of a Christian – a power to guide and lead but not a power to condemn and damn. Our baptism into Christ is not simply a photo opportunity and an excuse for everyone to get dressed up for church. Our baptism is actually a spiritual killing and raising to life again. But that death and rebirth doesn’t just affect our relationship with the law, to a certain extent it affects the sin in our lives as well, which is where we pick up Paul’s line of thought in verses 11-12. We have a newfound power – the power of God the Holy Spirit within us – to resist sin. Not that we can do so perfectly, but we can do so much better than we could before receiving faith in Jesus Christ! Just as if we had the opportunity to travel back in time to relive our lives and avoid the errors we regret now, our rebirth in Jesus Christ provides us the opportunity to live the rest of our lives out with decidedly different standards and possibilities guided not just by blind, sinful selfishness but the indwelling power and presence of the God who created, redeemed and now leads us towards holiness.

We have a true freedom and power to do this – albeit imperfectly as Paul will clarify in Chapter 7. Paul will continue to develop a line of thought that the Christian now lives and breathes in a different atmosphere, as it were, in Christ than before Christ while under the authority of Satan. But this change in environment and atmosphere does not set us free for a life of forgiven licentiousness. Rather, we are now slaves to Christ. Willing, grateful, blessed slaves. We are creatures and creatures have masters. Christ freed us from our slavery to sin and Satan which leads only to death, that we might be slaves of the God who created us, destined not for eternal misery but eternal life because of Christ.

Matthew 10:16-33 – We continue in Matthew 10 with Jesus preparing to send the disciples out for mission work. The reading does not exactly match the lectionary because I thought the lectionary divided up the text imprecisely. Last week Jesus laid out the reason for sending them out and the ground rules for how they would conduct their mission work. This week He begins to warn them not to assume their work will be universally received and appreciated. Here Jesus begins to speak prophetically. We have no textual evidence of the disciples being arrested or forced to defend themselves before “governors and kings” on this particular mission journey. Though certainly, the majority of them apparently did have to do so eventually – after Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension. Jesus here speaks as the Old Testament prophets did, sometimes mixing prophetic visions of nearer and more distant events without distinction. His words might have sounded very strange and a bit over-dramatic at the time, but later in their lives I’m sure his Word sustained them in the midst of trials and challenges both literal and figurative.

Likewise you and I are called to take Jesus’ words to heart. Not everyone will be happy to hear the news of a God who loves us enough to die for us and calls us into a life of obedient gratitude for saving us from ourselves and sin and Satan and death. There may be times when our message whether carefully crafted or mentioned off-handedly results in a furious rebuttal. And certainly some of God’s people throughout history and still today find themselves on trial or even at the mercy of an angry mob demanding their death.

At one level, while we don’t seek such responses, we are not to fear them or live our lives trying to hide from them. We are called to bear witness to our faith in lives of obedience to God the Father’s two guiding mandates in creation – love for him and love for neighbor, where love is defined not by us or the other person but by the God who created both. There may be times when we have to lovingly refuse the definitions and expressions of love our neighbor or culture demands from us because we know that, according to the Word of God, such definitions and expressions aren’t actually love.

When we have to reject the world’s definitions and ways of doing things and remind the world there is a Creator and his rules are to guide us, the response is oftentimes far less than grateful. But even if rejection of our witness of word and deed seems unanimous, we need to trust the Holy Spirit’s power, that He can move hearts and minds to faith using our imperfect obedience. It may not necessarily spare us the wrath of the mob or the penalty of the improper human law, but it should always remind us that we are never outside the love and care of our heavenly Father who is capable of turning Satan’s cruelest acts of inhumanity into opportunities to welcome new brothers and sisters in Christ into eternal life.

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