Reading Ramblings – March 7, 2021

Date: Third Sunday in Lent – March 7, 2021

Texts: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; John 2:13-25

Context: Sin mangles and obfuscates our relationship with God, ourselves, one another and creation. We are incapable of knowing what is truly best or right. Every faculty we have is affected – our will, our reason, our emotions, our senses. There is no means for us to obtain a clear and objective understanding of ourselves and reality. Therefore God must reveal these things to us or we will remain in perpetual darkness. God reveals truth about how things are supposed to function, and the sinfulness in us rebels against it. It seems too foreign, too difficult. And we do not trust or cannot clearly define the place where God’s will becomes obscured with our own sinfulness. We may be able to learn much about the world and ourselves and one another, but our knowledge must always be checked against what God has revealed to us.

Exodus 20:1-17 – God delivers his people from slavery and genocide. Exclusively by his own means and power, He demonstrates his authority over one of the most advanced polytheistic religious landscapes of the day. The Egyptians are shown their gods and goddesses are incapable of preventing God from doing as He pleases – their gods are as nothing! God also demonstrates his identity and power to his own enslaved people. The relationship He established with them is a distant memory, but his salvific actions on their behalf are current events to them, and they are firsthand witnesses. But witnessing the power of God does not ensure a proper relationship with him. God must not simply dazzle us but instruct us. He leads his people physically through the Red Sea and the wilderness in power and majesty, but He must still reveal the depth of their brokenness, the depth of their need for him. So long as we presume to be able to handle things on our own terms, we remain indifferent to God and feel it our prerogative to pick and choose from his decrees. Such an attitude is dangerously ignorant of the depth of our sin and our utter dependence on the grace and mercy of God to save us from it. In encountering the revealed Word and will of God we either are humbled by our own brokenness and receive his Word gladly, or we reject it completely and insist on being suffocated by our own sinfulness.

Psalm 19 – The proper response to the Word and will of God is, of course, to receive it with gladness and trust! After all, we can see in nature and within ourselves the truth of what He tells us. We can recognize that, despite our propensity to prefer our ways to his, his ways are actually objectively better. As the Word of God curtails my own sinful impulses it isn’t hard to see how that curtailment benefits not just others but myself as well. Verse 12 is key here – who can discern his errors? We are unable to see the depth of our sinfulness and must trust God to reveal it to us. Like children refused their demands we grouse at God at times and consider him too harsh. But as with a good parent, what God restricts or permits is always ultimately for the best not just of ourselves but all of creation around us. As we find our proper place as creatures rather than gods, we can hope for actual healing and reconciliation in part as we await for the final declaration of our righteousness in Christ, and the restoration of perfection to creation.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 – Paul prefaces the heart of the issues facing Corinth, a confusion of the way of God with the way of the world. Like the Corinthians we are people of the world. Trained and molded in worldly schools and businesses, trained in worldly ways of thinking and making decisions. We absorb this naturally. But in Christ we must constantly, actively consider the reality that we are creatures of the world as well as new creations in Christ, and this can and should set up in us conflict. We should each encounter moments when the Word of God leads us in one direction when our instinct, preference, or common sense leads us in the opposite. The entirety of Scripture shows us a God who leads in ways unexpected, whether it’s leading his people out of slavery and into a barren wilderness instead of to more welcoming and suitable climates, or using the incarntion and death of his eternal Son to accomplish victory over sin, Satan and death. Intuition is flawed and must be questioned constantly. The lines we arbitrarily draw between worldly wisdom and God’s wisdom and will are just that – arbitrary at best and not always helpful. And when we must make a choice between the two, the correct and best option is never the worldly way.

John 2:13-25 – Not even our religious lives are free from error in understanding and practice. It is easy to read the Bible and come to the conclusion that those people were somehow stupid and we are not. They did not accept Jesus and we have. They needed to be chastised and redirected, but we do not. By the grace of God we live on the other side of the Incarnation of the Son of God, and therefore can look back to his life and work and compare that to the Word of God to find it in harmony and fulfillment. But if we presume that we have everything figured out and are free from error in our religious thinking and doing, we are more than likely mistaken. Only God can tell the extent of that error, for the time being. But we should presume that, like God’s people throughout history, we need to take his Word seriously. And in humility we should recognize we will not have his Word perfectly incorporated into our worship life either corporately or personally.

The last few verses of this reading are fascinating and instructive. Faith in Jesus is not perfect. It is sufficient, but it may well also be mistaken in areas and always prone to the selfish manipulations of sin. So it is that Jesus does not entrust himself even to those who believe in him. This is the same Greek word that describes our faith in Jesus. Jesus does not have similar faith in us, as it were. He comes to save us – we contribute nothing towards his work, not even our approval or faith. We add nothing to what Jesus has done, we can only accept what He has accomplished on our behalf.

Jesus understands – as Peter’s rebuke in last week’s Gospel from Mark 8 makes clear – that even his faithful followers are sinful still and prone to be dangers to themselves and, in regards to his incarnate ministry, even to Jesus himself. While we give thanks to God the Holy Spirit for bringing us to faith, we need to remember our faith is not perfect. This should temper our interactions with brothers and sisters in the faith from different traditions/denominations, emphasizing the importance of holding to the core tenets of the faith while recognizing that on smaller issues we are likely to disagree and such disagreement should not be unloving or uncharitable and not treated as matters of eternal significance. We will fail in this – as in all things! – and should seek forgiveness regularly for it.

2 Responses to “Reading Ramblings – March 7, 2021”

  1. dunganm Says:

    Dear Pastor,That was a powerful sermon today! Would you send me the text so I can share it? Yours in Christ,MikeSent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

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