Reading Ramblings – June 28, 2020

Date: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 28, 2020 – COVID-19

Texts: Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 119:153-160; Romans 7:1-13; Matthew 10:34-42

Context: It is the erroneous assumption of some (many?) Christians that there can be a happy medium, an accommodation of sorts between the world and Christ. That the world will accept Christ if He is presented in the right way and right conditions, and that we can in turn continue to enjoy the world on our terms. But middle ground is tenuous at best and always fleeting. The prince of this world will not permit compromise unless he believes it will lead to his advantage. And likewise, God the Father has no intention of sharing his creation with any pretenders to the throne. Whatever middle ground we may appear to occupy will not last long, nor should we ultimately desire it to as it’s an expensive and dangerously misleading place to stand.

Jeremiah 28:5-9 – We don’t lack for conflicting messages in this world, and that has always been the case. Those who claim to speak on behalf of God appear to have an easy job. But the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Jeremiah echoes the sentiments of Moses in Deuteronomy 18:14-22 – those who claim to speak in God’s name should be held to their word, and judged by that word. Jeremiah faces the additional difficulty of reminding not just Hananiah but those inclined to listen to him that it’s easy to prophesy good things, as that’s what people want to hear. God’s Word often calls his people to the reality of how difficult things are in this world and how desperately Satan would like to see God’s people crushed and broken away from the loving hand of God the Father. Preaching peace and security has always been easy but rarely been accurate!

Psalm 119:153-160 – This portion of the acrosstic psalm uses the Hebrew letter resh. Speaking God’s truth to a world insistent on lies (Romans 1:18-32) will result in suffering for those who proclaim that truth. This psalm is spoken by the one who is faithful to the Word of God and is being punished for it. The speaker requests deliverance (v.153) from a potentially life-threatening (v.154) persecution (v.157). While the source of this persecution is not specified, it seems to have to do with the speaker’s refusal to compromise or violate God’s law (v.153) or statutes (v.157). It is reasonable for the faithful to pray to God for sustenance and vindication against the lies of the world. Such vindication ultimately is to the glory of God rather than just a personal blessing. Whether our preservation in the moment will best accomplish God’s purposes or not is not knowledge we’re usually privy to, calling us to trust that even an ignoble death can be used by God towards his ends, and we remain both in life and in death firmly in his care and love.

Romans 7:1-13 – The Christian’s relationship with the law is a matter of considerable confusion. The Law remains, but in Christ our relationship to the Law has changed. In Galatians 3 Paul will explain the Law as the means by which God protected creation until the coming of the Messiah. Paul uses the metaphor of marriage here to demonstrate the substantive change we have undergone in relationship to the Law. We were born sinfully bound to the Law and under it’s power to condemn us, but as we join ourselves to the death and resurrection of Jesus in baptism, we spiritually die and are reborn. So we are no longer bound to the Law as before, and we are free for Christ to claim us as his own. The Law in some ways stirred us to greater sinfulness once we understood what was prohibited to us. Our sinful nature found in the Law a guide as to what further and deeper sin we should be pushed towards. However the Law was not to blame for this, but our slavery to our sinful nature. The Law is good because it defines good and evil for us and saves us from the error and confusion of trying to define these things for ourselves, something we are always having to relearn. We can in no way transfer blame or guilt to the Law, but must always acknowledge it as the good gift of God, the righteousness of God spoken into a creation broken and unable to know that righteousness directly as Adam and Eve did in Genesis 1-2. So the Christian is not free and separate from the Law, but only from the condemnation of the Law. Sin remains sin, but the penalty of our sin is now satisfied not in our condemnation but in the forgiveness afforded by the incarnate suffering and death of the Son of God on our behalf.

Matthew 10:34-42 – Having prophesied the opposition his disciples will eventually face in fulfilling their duties as messengers, Jesus clarifies what will result from his work among us, the division it will create as the prince of this world fights against it, seeking to keep God’s creatures blinded and enslaved. God does not seek such division, but is committed to standing firm against the plots and plans of Satan. To imagine a God that shrinks from confrontation is to misunderstand both God and the nature of our depravity and sinfulness. There is no such thing as a little bit of salvation, or a partial victory or negotiated peace with evil. There is only victory. And while amnesty is extended in grace to those who repent of their former disobedience and rebellion, those who refuse such amnesty place themselves under eternal judgment. It is quite literally all or nothing and this should not surprise us as we live in the confusion and shifting ground of a creation constantly trying to mistakenly assert such compromise is not only possible but desirable. As though good could ever co-mingle with evil, purity with impurity, holiness with desecration, righteousness with outlaws.

Against attempts to hold such a middle ground Jesus speaks starkly. If you love the things and people of this world more than God you ultimately lose both eternally. Only by loving the things and people of this world in their proper place as fellow creations and creatures rather than gods and goddesses can we hope and pray both for their salvation and our own. It is not that we are to neglect or abandon the Fourth Commandment or our marriage vows. But for those in Christ all these relationships are derivative from and therefore only possible when kept in their proper relationship to our relationship with Christ.

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