Reading Ramblings – August 30, 2020

Date: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 30, 2020

Texts: Jeremiah 15:15-21; Psalm 26; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

Context: We are conditioned at an early age with the idea if we do things a certain way, we can reasonably expect certain outcomes. Study hard and you’ll get good grades. Work hard and you’ll be appreciated with greater opportunities and compensation. Follow a basic path towards a life that is stable and happy at home and at work. We’re in control. To some extent there is some truth and wisdom in this conditioning. But when we attempt to use similar reasoning in our relationship with God, we can quickly find ourselves on rocky ground. Does our good behavior or obedience mean God will protect us from disgrace or hardship or suffering? Does it ensure we are happy and healthy in body, mind and spirit and that our loved ones are similiarly protected? The great figures of the Bible lived their lives of faith through very trying and difficult times – should we assume we are different? If so, we run the risk of fulfilling Satan’s accusations about Job, that our faith is really only present because we’re comfortable and blessed.

Jeremiah 15:15-21 – Jeremiah’s task is not easy – proclaiming God’s judgment and displeasure and the results of that to the people of God in the city of God, Jerusalem. People who presume God’s protection could never be removed, that He would never allow his people to suffer catastrophe. But their assumptions certainly aren’t based on the history of their people. As the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for 40 years should demonstrate, God has never hesitated to chastise and discipline his people. Jeremiah’s message is not appreciated and he suffers because of it, and now cries out to God at the unfairness of it all. Why should Jeremiah be made to suffer when he is only being faithful and obedient to God’s calling (vs.15-18)? God’s response is not necessarily what we (or Jeremiah!) might like to hear! Jeremiah is chastised for complaining and called to repentance and obedience rather than self-pity (v.19). God has been, is, and will continue to be with Jeremiah. This does not mean Jeremiah will quit suffering, but it should mean Jeremiah can trust in God to defend him and sustain him in the midst of continued suffering and attempts to silence him. We too should trust in God’s presence even as we suffer from Coronavirus fears or political unpleasantries. We show ourselves to be people of God in our faithfulness and love during these challenges, rather than by presuming we are exempted from our obligations as God’s people just because things are hard.

Psalm 26 – We should admit this psalm is hard to read, initially. It makes us uncomfortable. It sounds as though the speaker is bragging, standing on his merits to demand certain things from God. We’ve read enough of St. Paul to know this would be inappropriate, Pharasaical, diminishing the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. But if we read the psalm more closely, we see the main issue as being one of relationship. The speaker gives examples that demonstrate the trust in his heart (v.1). This is the center – his absolute trust in God, and that this trust works itself out tangibly in his life by what he chooses to do (vs. 3, 6-7) and what he chooses to avoid (vs. 4-5). In this relationship not just of external piety but internal trust and devotion, the speaker rightfully looks to God as the source of their strength and hope. He is not trying to justify his pleas for help to God, but rather knows that because of his faithfulness and trust, God will not disappoint him. We too should have this trust. Our God will vindicate us no matter what happens to us. God has and will deliver us in Jesus Christ and we can be confident about this!

Romans 12:9-21 – Paul has transitioned from his exposition about the Jewish people to encouragements to the Romans to live lives fitting their faith in Jesus Christ. Verses 3-8 focused on what this looks like within the life of faith with fellow Christians, and now starting in v.9 Paul extends this to general behavior appropriate at all times and situations. Paul summarizes his section at the start – love is not just an idea or a concept, love is expressed tangibly or it is insincere. Love actively seeks good and avoids evil. Love insists on devotion to one another in all situations not just when things go the way we prefer them to. Love honors others rather than trying to tear them down to build ourselves up. Love serves the Lord zealously. And love focuses on the big picture even when things at the moment are difficult. Love is generous and inviting to others. Love extends beyond those we like and who like us to enemies and persecutors. Love is not conceited but loves people regardless of how society defines them or treats them. It is a high calling Paul outlines, one we are not capable of on our own or based on our emotional commitment, but rather we trust God the Holy Spirit to strengthen us towards this calling even when we are tired or don’t feel up to it. That way God receives the glory rather than ourselves!

Matthew 16:21-28 – Jesus knows what God the Father is calling him to do. He is committed to doing it despite the fact it is highly unpleasant. But Peter, like us, would like there to be an easier way. A simpler way, and perhaps even a way more personally fulfilling or materially rewarding. Peter encourages Jesus to realign his understanding of God’s will with the world’s way of looking at things. Being of the world this is only natural. We presume the world’s way of honoring and giving glory is the way God works as well. What glory or honor could there be to God if Jesus suffers and dies as a common criminal? Surely Jesus can’t mean to pursue a path so contrary to how the world does things!

But Jesus does intend to because that is God the Father’s will. This understanding led Jesus to resist Satan’s temptations in the wilderness earlier (Matthew 4:1-11), but certainly Peter’s words remain tempting. Jesus truly is human and the idea of a humiliating and excruciating death are terrifying! So Jesus’ strong words here are roughly equivalent to his rejection of Satan’s more direct temptations in Chapter 4.

Jesus knows what God the Father wants and trusts God the Father to see him through it. This is the same faithfulness and trust God calls Jeremiah to in the Old Testament reading, and the same faith and trust the psalmist leans on. It is the same faith and trust you and are called to, and we don’t have a problem with this when things are going well – when we’re healthy and before Coronavirus appeared and when politics and economics are going our way. But when things are not going our way, we’re prone to wanting to take control and force things the way we think they should be. We’re prone to complain to God rather than giving him thanks and praise. We’re prone to lamenting our obedience rather than trusting in God even when things are not working out the way we desired.

We are called to take God’s Word that his love for us truly is real, even if it doesn’t look and feel the way the world decides love should look and feel. Jesus’ trust and obedience in this situation led to his victory over sin and Satan and death, to our freedom and eternal life. We can and should trust God can work even in the difficult places and times in our life to his glory and the benefit not just of ourselves but those around us as well.

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