Reading Ramblings – September 6, 2020

Date: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 6, 2020

Texts: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 32:1-7; Romans 13:1-10; Matthew 18:1-20

Context: Sin. One of the central realities of Biblical Christianity, the reality and severity of sin have been greatly obliterated by modern psychological theory. It is not uncommon to meet people with absolutely no concept of any moral guilt on their part towards other people, let alone towards a Creator God. Yet sin is fundamental to the Biblical Christian worldview and anthropology – our understanding of ourselves. If sin is not a fundamental, existential issue, there is no need for a savior, no eternal consequence to our thoughts, words and deeds. Certainly this is a convenient corollary to evolutionary theory, but it is completely foreign to a Biblical Christian understanding. Yet many churches are unwilling to address the real and pressing matter of personal moral guilt, afraid that in a culture which prizes self-esteem at all costs, it will drive people away. Whether it drives them away or not is, unfortunately, not the responsibility of the Church. The Church is responsible for declaring the reality of sin and the severity of it, both in temporal effects and eternal conclusions, as well as the divine remedy centered alone in the Incarnate person and work of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

Ezekiel 33:7-9 – The opening half of this chapter is God’s renewed call on Ezekiel to warn the people of God of the danger they stand in because of their lack of repentance. This call was first issued in Chapter 2 and further explained in Chapter 3. Ezekiel is in exile with the aristocratic remnant of Jerusalem in Babylon. Much of his 20-year span of prophecies has to do with warnings against the people who remain in Judah after capitulating to the Babylonian siege about 10 years before the final Judean revolt against Babylon and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem. Ezekiel continues to warn both the people in Judah as well as those already in exile of the continued dangers of unrepentant disobedience to the calls of God. God’s warnings are real and true. It is Ezekiel’s job to faithfully convey them. He is not responsible for the response (or lack thereof) of God’s people, but will be held responsible if he fails his calling to warn them. This is part of the continued work of the Church today – calling people to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

Psalm 32:1-7 – Where do we go with the guilt of sin? When we are convicted of guilt because of our thoughts, words or deeds, regardless of whether anyone else knows about it or not? How burdensome that weight can be, as we try to convince ourselves it’s no big deal, or that no sin was actually perpetrated! The conscience is a powerful thing, if an imprecise one at times. The reality of moral guilt also requires a means of relief from that guilt or we quickly become overwhelmed by it and unable to function. I’m sure modern psychologists would have a field day with the side effects described by David here, even if they refused to acknowledge the reality of a God before whom David is ultimately held morally accountable. Only from our Creator can true forgiveness and healing come. To pretend otherwise is foolish and dangerous. It is our joy to know our God does indeed provide healing and forgiveness. Hiding from him is only detrimental to ourselves and those around us. Honesty with God, repentance and faithful trust in his forgiveness through his Incarnate Son are the true and lasting source of healing and relief and joy that all other methods of meditation or positive-thinking can only aspire to.

Romans 13:1-10 – Had we remained in Eden, I doubt we would have need for government in the sense we know it. Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect union with and obedience to God the Father, so that there would be no need for any hierarchy or system of human administration. At least I like to think this. Even if there were, eventually, such a need, it would be perfect. However, we are not in Eden. Our connection both to God and one another is now broken and flawed even in our best intentions. Reason itself is marred. Government becomes a necessity, but also a flawed necessity. God in his goodness ordains that broken humanity organize itself and protect the vulnerable through systems of government. The Bible does not advocate one system over another, yet historically nearly every human governmental institution has at one level or another claimed for itself divine legitimacy. Some governments are better than others. Some officials are better than others. Christians are strongly warned against presuming to take government into their own hands, but rather to trust in God’s work. Good leaders exist for the good of their people. And while bad leaders certainly exist they will answer to God for their abuses, and Christians are not to assume it to be their job to rebel against power structures. We are, however, called to love. Everyone. At all times. Not just theoretically but tangibly as we have opportunity. And we are called to give thanks to God for providing means of protection through human governance. Serving God does not automatically exempt us from our responsibilities as citizens of a given political entity, even as we cling to God’s Law even should temporal law set itself up in opposition to God’s will.

Matthew 18:1-20 – How serious is sin? Far more serious than we are inclined to take it, most likely. Pervasive. Devastating. Dangerous to ourselves and to others. Jesus’ language here should leave no doubt as to the insidious nature of sin and our proclivity to turn a blind eye to it. Entering the kingdom of heaven consists of the simple awareness we cannot accomplish this on our own but, like little children, must be dependent on a loving God to give us what we could never procure on our own. It is God’s good intention to give generously, but sin interferes. Not just the innate sinfulness in each one of us, but the cruel reality that we are able to lead others into sin, endangering their eternal gift from God the Father by potentially directing them away from his love and grace and forgiveness.

All of this stems from the question posed by the disciples initially of who is greatest? We are prone to measure greatness by standards we create and control and therefore are to some degree achievable. But this is not greatness in the kingdom of heaven. There are standards there for us to manipulate, and the one who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven is none other than God himself, who continues to extend grace and mercy and forgiveness to even the least of these that we are likely to consider of little value and not worthy of such extravagant love and care.

Jesus reiterates the directive Matthew recorded in the previous chapter about the work of the Church in proclaiming the forgiveness of sins or announcing the danger of unforgiveness to the unrepentant. Here the words are linked to how matters of sin are to be handled among the people of God, where there should be at least nominal agreement on both the nature of sin and the need for repentance prior to forgiveness. So serious is the issue of sin that when it is discovered, it needs to be confronted and repentance called for. This should be done lovingly and privately, but if such means are not sufficient, things must be escalated. Always this is with the goal of bringing about true repentance – not simply acknowledgement of the sin but an earnestness to turn away from that sin. If someone who claims to be a follower of Christ will not respond to the clear teaching of God’s Word, then they are to be treated as one who has not yet learned of God and Christ. They are no longer participants of the members of the body of Christ but become those to be reached out to with the good news of grace and forgiveness made possible through repentance. Only in this way can the integrity of the Church be maintained and the seriousness of the situation communicated to the offending person, so they would repent and receive God’s forgiveness. The goal is the celebration appropriate when someone receives Jesus Christ and the promise of eternal life!

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