Reading Ramblings – September 26, 2021

Date: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost ~ September 26, 2021

Texts: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Psalm 104:27-35; James 5:(1-12)13-20; Mark 9:38-50

Context: I’m out of practice a bit, but hope to catch up a bit in the coming weeks! We’re still in Ordinary Time, so that’s something!

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29 – Let me reiterate at the outset that I great dislike slicing and dicing sections of Scripture (or any written material, for that matter). Most often this is done to remove extraneous or unnecessary material (as it is here) and thus shrink down the overall reading and the time required for it. If you’re married to the idea that worship can’t be more than 60 minutes long, shortening the readings gives the preacher more time to preach. Circumstances dictate whether that’s a good thing or not. So here we don’t want to take the time to read about what manna was, we’re simply focused on the central conflict and why God had to provide it in the first place.

Ungratefulness, a theme related to the reading last week from James, is what’s at play here. But the greater story is God’s providence. The short memories and general ungratefulness of a people in a difficult transition from settled city life to long-term campers is secondary to the provision God extends. Provision not just in the physical manna to feed a perceived physical hunger, but further in his grace and mercy against a rather unattractively ungrateful people. Even Moses is perturbed by everything and his role in it, yet God remains calm in providing bread for his people’s temporal needs, just as He will provide the Bread of Life in his incarnate Son, Jesus the Christ, to provide for his people’s eternal needs.

Psalm 104: 27-35 – In line with God providing manna in the Old Testament reading, the psalm selection emphasizes creations’ dependence on the Creator. The first 27 verses of this psalm extol the works of God in creating and sustaining. He alone is the cause behind all the causes and effects in the created order. As such, creation looking to the Creator starting at verse 27 is only reasonable and logical. Here the verses deal not only with the physical needs of food and shelter, but emotional needs like fear and existential issues such as death. All of which culminates rightly in praise to God as the author of creation and the author of our faith and hope and salvation.

James 5:(1-12)13-20 – Prayer is the language of faith. Prayer is the appropriate response in all situations, though we tend to think of it more often when we’re in need or facing difficulties. Perhaps that’s why James leads off with such situations in this section starting at verse 13. But it’s great that second in the list is a reminder we can pray when we’re grateful and happy just as much as when we’re lacking and fearful! Verses 14-15 are interesting in this time of pandemic and sickness and fear. A wonderful reminder that healing ultimately comes from God, whether He chooses to dispense it miraculously by the Holy Spirit through prayer or equally miraculously through vaccines or other medical options.

Some Christians interpret these words as directive regarding what we are supposed to do – anoint with oil. Certainly anointing with oil has a rich and deep history in Scripture, but this is mainly because it was also cultural and historical. Oil was used not just as a beauty product but also as a balm for healing. As such, it can easily be argued that James is basically instructing the Church to provide necessary medical care as opposed to rejecting or refusing medical care as though these aren’t means by which God can sustain his creatures! James also provides a link between illness and sin, something few churches are willing to preach about!

Throughout this section the reminder is that while physical illness and need are real and valid things that prayer can be brought to bear on, our greater need is for the affliction that runs deeper in us and ultimately is the cause of all sickness and disease and brokenness in creation – sin. Ensuring that we don’t neglect the spiritual care of people while going overboard to treat their physical afflictions is certainly something the Church must remember at all times!

Mark 9:38-50 – The initial verses in this section are striking. Jesus does not demand his disciples stop others from using his name to perform miracles. These other people presumably are not committed followers of Jesus (not among the 120 or so that formed his extended discipling group beyond the 12). They would not be privy then, we can assume, to the fullest of his teaching. They might be running with just the barest of understanding of who Jesus is and what He is here for. There must be some level of actual faith at play, since demons could refute the mere name of Jesus (Acts 19:15), yet these people were missing so much for whatever reason! Yet Jesus insists they be allowed to continue their work. Their work is good as done in faith and in the name of Jesus.

What an interesting lesson might there be here to learn for our congregational or even denominational conflicts? To remember that as we have faith in Jesus we are considered his, even if we may be missing out on some beneficial doctrinal understanding. The Universal Church of believers spans far more corners of belief than we are likely to be comfortable with. And while this is not an excuse not to preach and teach the Gospel to the best of our ability, there is a comfort that comes from knowing that even when someone doesn’t necessarily understand all they could or should, they are still in Christ.

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