Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Reading Ramblings – August 27, 2017

August 20, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 27, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 51:1-6; Psalm 138; Romans 11:33-12:8; Matthew 16:13-20

Context: The texts for today emphasize the Lord’s working in our lives. All too often we are inclined to think that it is we who pursue and find God. But it is God who pursues us, who raises us from spiritual death to life in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah 51:1-6 – What begins as though a summons to the wise and spiritual and godly ends up with an emphasis on the saving work of God. Abraham and Sarah are invoked not because of their piety but because of God’s decision to work through them, particularly through their shortcomings (no children) in order to show his power and bestow his blessings. Verse three particularly seems to emphasize the Lord’s ability to grant bounty in the place of barrenness, a thinly veiled reference to his granting Sarah and Abraham a child despite their advanced ages. Verses 4-6 call us to turn our attention from ourselves and fix our eyes on God – on his righteousness, his salvation, his judgment, and his mighty arm. We are not the main characters in the story of our life. We are part of God’s story, and it is the story of him accomplishing all these things on our behalf. Our efforts amount to nothing but smoke, but the promises of God are eternal and reliable.

Psalm 138 – This three-part psalm praises God for his love and faithfulness, moving from a personal account of God’s saving hand to a general exhortation and expectation of praise to God from all the rulers of the earth, before moving back to a personal statement of confidence in God’s continued blessing and protection. The personal reasons for praise act as a spur, a reason for the more general expectation of praise. God’s care for the individual is the demonstration of his worthiness for praise by even the kings of the earth, who He expects to approach him in humility. The psalmist emphasizes God’s steadfastness – He is committed to his creation.

Romans 11:33-12:8 – Paul concludes his inspirations on the relationship of Gentile Christians to their Jewish brethren with an explosion of praise to God. Paul draws on Isaiah 40:13 in part to express his praise in the Lord’s inscrutable wisdom and ways. While we can’t imagine how the Gentiles will be used to reconcile the Jewish people in faith to Jesus Christ, the Lord has figured this out. It is this very omnipotence and omniscience of God, applied to the well-being of his creation, that should spur the faithful in Jesus Christ to obedience. God knows what is best and we would do well to conform to his wisdom in all things, thereby attaining to holiness and acceptableness in his sight. The world can only lead us away from God and his wisdom, but careful attention to his Word will draw us closer to him and closer to who He intends for us to be.

It is God’s wisdom which leads us to be all that we can be, but we are inclined to lean on our own estimations and understandings, imagining ourselves to be more faithful, more resolute in our faith than we actually are. We might consider Peter’s confidence at the last supper, assuring Jesus he would follow him even to death when Jesus knew full well that Peter would deny him three times that very same night.

God has indeed blessed us with gifts, however! And we should endeavor to embrace them and put them to use inasfar as He has equipped us to do so. The expectation is that we should see this diversity of gifts as a good thing – to our benefit – rather than an opportunity for judgment or determining who is more important or valuable than another. By focusing on utilizing our gifts, we will have less time to compare ourselves to others.

Matthew 16:13-20 – The pharisees have recently demanded that Jesus perform additional signs and wonders so that they might determine who He is and whether they should place their faith in him. It can be assumed that the Pharisees have been keeping an eye on Jesus, and while not privy to all of his miracles (such as walking on the water in Chapter 14), they undoubtedly have witnessed other miracles, such as feeding the 5000 in Chapter 14 as well as his healings (such as Chapter 12). Jesus refuses their demands that He perform for them. So Jesus’ questions to his disciples in 16:13 and 16:15 are well timed. Having seen and experienced what they have with him, what are the conclusions they are drawn to? The crowds presume Jesus is a prophetic figure, but Peter is able to confess the amazing reality that Jesus is not just a prophet, but the Messiah and the Son of God.

We take this confession so lightly. Well of course that’s who He is! But we have the benefit of a great deal of hindsight! The Jewish people have been hearing about a Messiah for hundreds of years – for Peter to make the assertion that the Messiah has arrived here and now is amazing indeed. Impossible indeed. Rather, it is revealed to Peter by the Holy Spirit as directed by God the Father. Peter could have rejected this revelation, insisted that it could not be. But he seems to accept it and speak it aloud. Does it imply perfect understanding? Clearly this is not the case for Peter or any of the disciples. They have much still to learn and they don’t know nearly as much as they will after Jesus’ resurrection and Pentecost Sunday.

But Peter’s confession is a start. But it isn’t just a personal confession, or even the confession of the twelve. It is the foundational confession of all who will follow after. We the Church find Jesus’ words perfectly understandable, but how could Peter and the disciples? What is the Church? How does it relate to the synagogue and the Temple? Jesus commands silence but He might hardly have needed to, as they certainly wouldn’t have understood the implications of his words until after Pentecost when they were free to proclaim them!

The Church still bears the authority that Jesus entrusted to his followers. And while our understanding may be deeper, we remain followers of Jesus who understand far less than we think we do, and have fewer answers to our questions than we would like to have. But like Peter and the twelve, we are called to be faithful to the truth revealed to us by the Holy Spirit.

Explaining Hatred

August 15, 2017

Everyone has been weighing in on the events in Charlottesville.  Almost all decry the ideologies of white supremacy and neo-Nazism, and rightfully so.  Almost all decry the violence and bloodshed, and rightfully so.  And almost all are shocked to realize that such ideas can exist in our country.  I use that word – shocked – intentionally.  They aren’t just saddened, but rather deeply shaken and horrified.  It is this particular aspect of the social response that I find so fascinating and disturbing, a clear demonstration of just how shallow Biblical and Christian theology and doctrinal understanding are in our culture, or at least are among those in positions of public influence and celebrity.

One response stuck in my mind came from Jimmy Fallon.  As much as I’m a fan of anyone (not very much), I’m a fan of Fallon.  He has great comedic instinct and demonstrates real creativity – like helping to arrange covers of popular music on children’s instruments.  But I found his comments on Charlottesville troubling.  They were also very awkward and uncomfortable, but I chalk that up to him speaking in a non-comedic voice he doesn’t use publicly very often.

What particularly caught my ear was when he mentioned (at the :22 second mark) how he struggled to figure out how to explain to them hatred in the world.  What shocked me is that he phrased this as some sort of new dilemma.  As though, prior to Charlottesville, this wasn’t something that he was going to need to explain to them.  It hadn’t occurred to him, perhaps.  Or he didn’t think it necessary.

Which baffles me.

Literally hundreds of people killed in very visible terror attacks over the last few years, and it’s never occurred to him that he needs to find a way to explain hatred to his children?  Millions of people driven from their homes in Syria due to a violent civil war and he hasn’t realized that this is an example of hatred he’ll have to explain to his daughters?  Hundreds of young girls kidnapped by Islamic extremists in Chibok Nigeria to be sold into sexual slavery and forced marriages, and this didn’t strike him as something that required an explanation?  Bickering between nations large and small, not an example of hatred needing an explanation?

Baffling.

Perhaps the issue is that these things happened somewhere else.  I suspect this is part of the issue, actually.   It happened in other places, among primitive and backwards people, allegedly.  People who haven’t been exposed to progressive ideals and carefully nurtured to be tolerant by a public education system and through public television.  These are examples of a lack of education, a lack of cultivation.  If only the perpetrators could be taught properly, formed properly, they wouldn’t act in this way.  We wouldn’t have these problems if everyone benefitted from the progressive and enlightened way we raise our children here in America these days.

Except for the young woman recently convicted of encouraging her boyfriend to commit suicide.  Is this be a form of hatred?  Just this past weekend in Chicago there were 30 shootings with nine resulting deaths, but this isn’t a form of hatred?  The ambush and murder of five police officers in Texas last year isn’t an example of hatred?  What about children that are still routinely bullied and driven to despair both in person and through social media, despite years and years of anti-bullying propaganda?

It seems that there are a plethora of hateful things happening here at home.  Yet none of these give Fallon pause to consider the role of hatred in our country or world?

Or are these also examples of primitive behavior?  Demonstrations of backwards thinking, of irrationality, of rebellion, of a failure to properly assimilate?  How many different ways do we have of describing hatred, or more broadly and accurately, to describe the power of evil in human hearts?  Yet how rigorously our culture insists that these are aberrations, occasional blips on the radar screen of otherwise glorious progress towards kinder, gentler, better human beings!

I explain hatred and evil to my children because I have to.  I have to explain it to them to prepare them for the world.  And I can explain it to them.  We’re broken.  Fundamentally.  Beyond repair.  Beyond rehabilitation.  There is nothing in this world that can fix our brokenness.  Sometimes that brokenness is minor like when I rage-quit a video game that I shouldn’t take so seriously.  Sometimes that brokenness is major, when it marginalizes and destroys other people.  Except those distinctions are really pointless and inaccurate.  They are both expressions of the same brokenness, just on different scales.  They aren’t qualitatively different even if they are different in a quantitative way, in the amount of measurable damage that results.

This is the explanation I see every day around me and within me.  It isn’t that we don’t know what to do, that somehow we aren’t clear that it’s wrong to kill someone, or get inordinately angry about a video game.  The issue is that despite knowing, we aren’t able to fully control ourselves.  There are parts of our thoughts, words, and deeds that are out of control, and our attempts to rein them in are inadequate at best.

I don’t accept Naziism, but last I checked that ideology existed in one form or another in pretty many places around the world.  I don’t agree with it or think it should gain power, but I’m not shocked by it’s existence.  The KKK has existed in various forms in our country for over a century.  I find racism repugnant but not shocking.  It’s brokenness.  Sin.  It exists.  It will continue to exist.  And you can’t just legislate it away, and you can’t just educate it away.  The only thing you can do is what we’re headed for – kill the people who profess it.

That is shocking.  Not that it can happen – it’s happened repeatedly through human history on a large scale and still goes on around the world today.  What is shocking is that it could be me in the gas chamber, or preparing for the firing squad or the noose or the lethal injection.  Once you begin down the road of killing those people you disagree with – no matter how repugnant their ideas – it’s a slippery slope of who else gets added to the death list.

What should give the biggest cause for pause in all of this isn’t fundamentally the reality of racism or Nazism or fascism or any other –ism.  Rather it’s the inability of so many people to both realize that of course there will always be -isms of one form or another that are repugnant or deeply flawed.  There will always be hatred, there will be always be evil, because there will always be sin.  This is the fundamental incompatibility in world views that exists in our culture and our world.

I prepare my children for the hatred and evil in the world by showing it to them in themselves.  Making them aware that they are broken already.  Teaching them how to cope with that reality – both in terms of discipline but also in terms of repentance, confession, and acceptance of forgiveness by the only entity not only capable and willing to save them from themselves, but who actually already has begun that process in a tangible way 2000 years ago through a man who claimed to be divine and dying for my sins, with his resurrection from the dead as evidence that I should believe him.  I teach them that this is their hope, their only hope.  I teach them to be good, of course, to the best of my ability to teach and their ability to learn.  But I also remind them that they aren’t going to be perfect, they won’t always be good.  And what this means isn’t that they have failed as human beings and have only despair left to them.  But rather that they will struggle with their sin until they die, but they can struggle with it because they don’t struggle alone.  The God who created them and died for them is with them, here and now and forever.

I don’t like evil and hatred.  I will stand against it as I am called to.  But I can’t ever forget that the hatred and evil exist in me as well and always will.   Perhaps in more socially acceptable ways, but still sin, still brokenness and separation from the God who created me and therefore has died to save me from myself.  Which means I can try to persuade others that their ideas are wrong and misguided and at odds with the God who created them as well, but I can’t come to classify them as the Other, as somehow different from myself.  I can’t presume that if I kill them off, things will be better.  The only thing that can make them and myself better is to acknowledge our complete inability to fix the fundamental brokenness we share, and to go in repentance to the God who created us and died for us, accepting his promise to do for us and in us  and despite us what we cannot do for ourselves or one another.

To heal us.  Not through education but through the blood of the Son of God.  The only innocent blood that has ever been shed in our world.  In that blood you and I have the real hope for healing and new life, for the brokenness to be perfectly and eternally healed, and for the voices of hatred or lust or anger or whatever that plague us to be finally and eternally silenced.  It’s only the blood of Jesus that can extinguish the torches and beat the swords into plowshares.  Imperfectly here and now, but perfectly and forever when He returns to reclaim creation from our rebellion.

Come Lord Jesus, come.

 

Reading Ramblings – August 20, 2017

August 13, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 20, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Psalm 67; Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32; Matthew 15:21-28

Context: The readings for today all focus on God’s eternal purpose of reaching all peoples with his saving love and grace, brought into the world through his Incarnate Son Jesus Christ as a descendant of the Hebrews, God’s chosen children of Abraham. This balance between the blessedness of being part of God’s family, and the blessedness that through being part of God’s family, God the Holy Spirit continues to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others can be difficult to maintain. It can be hindered by obsessive personal piety, or by congregational rigidity and inflexibility. It is hindered by seeing the world as an us vs. them arrangement. The blessings of God are intended for all of his creation, and we as his people should be the first to rejoice in this and in the part we have to play in sharing this good news with others.

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 – For those who might see inclusiveness as a new thing with the ministry of Jesus the Christ, Isaiah is a good reminder that God has always intended his blessings to extend to everyone in creation, not just his chosen people. It is not genetics or genealogy that determines our place in God’s family, but rather love and obedience to his way of salvation through his Son Jesus. As God’s people it is paramount that we keep this perspective in mind. We are led in nearly every other aspect of our lives to see different groups of people as the enemy or as threats or as competitors. But we are called in Christ to see them as brothers and sisters (potential or realized) in Christ, and this identity should never be lost regardless of the political or social or economic issues that seek to separate and divide us. Rather, by keeping our eyes fixed on Christ’s love for us, we should be better able to extend his love to others – even those we radically disagree with or who actively struggle against us. Our prayer is that regardless of whatever divides us now, we will be united for eternity in common worship and praise of our common heavenly Father.

Psalm 67 – The notation of selah appears 71 times in the psalms, but we are uncertain as to its exact meaning and purpose. The assumption is that it is some sort of liturgical or musical direction or notation, perhaps indicating a musical interlude, or calling for a pause in the reading to allow for reflection. This psalm utilizes the notation twice, and as a whole is a call to both praise God and to pray for all peoples to be brought together in praise to God. This is on the basis of the righteousness and equality which God alone is capable and willing to give to his peoples. Through these aspects of God creation is continually renewed and continues to provide sustenance to all peoples, evidence of the Lord’s blessing.

Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32 – In Chapters 9-11 Paul deals with the issue of the Jewish people – namely, why is it that those who should have been first to recognize and acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah did not, and are in fact active persecutors of Christians (as Paul himself once was). The assigned readings for the past few weeks have danced around this theme in order to highlight the broader theme of God’s intentions towards all peoples. But here we finally address the central topic. While the grace of God is extended to all peoples, we should be careful not to think of ourselves too highly in this respect. The grace extended to us has come by means of God’s chosen people, through whom the Messiah was brought into creation. God’s intention is that his chosen people will indeed, in the fullness of time and by his grace, be brought into the same grace in which the non-Jews in Christ now stand. God is at work even in this detail of his plan of salvation.

Matthew 15:21-28 – Jesus has limited time in his mission to God’s chosen people and his own race, the Jews. He has directed his disciples to focus their efforts on God’s people (Matthew 10:5-6), as they should be prepared to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah the Old Testament prophets pointed them towards. But as Jesus has consistently responded with compassion towards the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 9:36, 14:14), He now responds with compassion towards a foreigner. However not immediately so.

Jesus has left areas of Jewish influence and withdrawn to pagan, non-Jewish areas on the upper coast of the Mediterranean Sea. He has sought time and space to be alone with his disciples since word of John the Baptist’s death came to him (14:12-13). Now He encounters a woman who has heard of his healings and miracle workings. She acknowledges him as the Son of David, at least indicating an awareness of his possible identity as the Messiah. How she should know this we are not told. But in her desperation, she acts on this knowledge of Jewish Scripture and Jesus’ reputation to plead for her daughter. Her refusal to be put off by Jesus’ silence leads his disciples to ask that He send her away, just as they did with the crowds who sought him earlier (14:15). Once again, Jesus has a point to make to his disciples.

As He responded to the Jewish crowds in Galilee, Jesus now responds to this Canaanite woman. First He reminds her the scope of his work and mission. He is not sent to all the earth, but rather to the people of God in Israel. She persists. He once again asserts that He is not sent to do signs and wonders among the Gentiles. But the woman is persistent as well. Surely the Lord is bountiful in his mercy and grace! Surely there is enough power and grace in Jesus to spare a bit for someone beyond the boundaries of Israel. Surely Jesus will not deny her plea, now that she is there in front of him!

And He does not. Her pleas are answered. Does she acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God? Not within the scope of the text. Yet the Son of God still answers the prayer that she raises to him. God’s grace is truly abundant, and we should direct all people towards prayer and supplication to him in time of need. It may be that He will answer their prayer as a means of leading them towards faith in him through Jesus Christ. It is also fitting that we his people should lift prayers to him on behalf of those outside the faith, trusting in his grace and mercy and his desire to change lives both now and eternally.

Reading Ramblings – August 13, 2017

August 6, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 13, 2017

Texts: Job 38:1-18; Psalm 18:1-16; Romans 10:5-17; Matthew 14:22-33

Context: The life of faith is one of obedience, of trust in God rather than in ourselves. But this is hard, isn’t it? Trust is much more difficult than knowing. Obedience is much less glamorous that determining our own fate. Faithfulness in our vocations doesn’t necessarily deliver us from boredom or the envy of others who seem to live more exciting lives. The passages for this Sunday deal with the challenge of being faithful where and as we are called, rather than on the terms we would prefer to set for ourselves.

Job 38:1-18 – I’m adding the first three verses of this chapter to the reading, because they provide good context for what follows. We’ve been commiserating with Job for a long time. We’ve heard his well-intentioned friends advising him on how to placate God so that his wrath is removed. We’ve heard his wife suggest that he should just curse God and die. Job has remained steadfast and resolute. He is convinced that personal sin/guilt is not the root cause for his suffering. He insists that God alone is responsible – as nothing can happen apart from his will or permission. And now God finally arrives and we settle back for a comforting ending, an explanation that will satisfy Job – and us. Instead, we get God in his anger and indignation. God is not about to explain or defend himself to Job – or to you and I. Job – like you and I – is not in a position to demand such an accounting. Job is a creation. Creations obey. Creations trust. Creations worship and praise. Creations do not stamp their feet and demand explanations from the almighty. While uncomfortable, these verses and those that follow remind us that we are not God, and if we expect to be, or expect God to accommodate our personal whims and preferences, our God is not likely the God of Scripture, but rather ourselves.

Psalm 18:1-16 – I’m using the longer reading for this psalm. It’s a beautiful picture of the wrath of God directed against anyone and anything that threatens and antagonizes his beloved creation. This is the God of judgment who will vindicate and redeem his people and his creation from the evil power and deceit of Satan and his followers. This is righteousness driving evil from all of creation, restoring the freedom and peace of Eden once again to creation. This is God sending his Son to conquer sin and death and Satan not with bolts of lightning but with obedience, faithfulness, trust, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return. This is where my hope lies. I am going to die. I may well suffer in some respect or another beforehand. But I know that my redeemer lives and therefore my suffering and death will not be the final word in my life. My tombstone epitaph is not the last word in my life, but rather Jesus’ final word is, and that word is LIVE!

Romans 10:5-17 – Paul’s earnest desire that the Jews would come to see the truth of Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah promised in their own Scriptures is real and true. And he recognizes that this is not a truth that we can come to of our own reason or devices (though at times it may seem that way!). Rather, it is a faith that we must receive, and to receive it, it must be brought to us, and that requires people to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to those who have not yet heard it – either literally or actually. The importance of evangelism is that all might hear, and in hearing, trust. Righteousness is not fulfillment of the Law; it consists in believing God when He makes a promise. – Martin Luther –

Matthew 14:22-33 – You know this passage. And you probably have heard one or two sermons on it to the effect of – What amazing faith Peter had! Too bad he didn’t have enough faith! Be bold like Peter, and keep your faith rather than doubting! I guarantee that if I preach on this passage Sunday, this isn’t going to be my sermon!

What the heck is Peter thinking? Why does he ask to walk across the water to Jesus? On what basis does he think this is a reasonable thing to do? How is his walking on the water a test of Jesus’ identity? Everything in this passage screams against Peter and what he is doing, not for him. Why is it that we idolize Peter in this passage, then?

I think such idolatry is common in our age where recognition, celebrity and fame seem to be the goal of so many, and where technology makes such hopes actually achievable – at least for short periods of time. How many people harbor the secret (or not-so-secret) desire to go viral and become Internet famous? It’s easy to make Peter into a role model for the extravagant, wild life of faith. The super-hero kind of faith. Not the ordinary, boring kind of faith. Not the faithfulness to wife and children kind of faith. Not the go-to-church-every-Sunday-and-find-ways-to-serve-each-week kind of faithfulness. Not the faithfulness of nose to the grindstone even when it isn’t exciting or even particularly enjoyable. Not the faithfulness of plodding along day after day. No, we want super hero faith. We want walking on water, we want miracle healings, we want to be admired for our faithfulness.

Jesus calls Peter to him, but why? Is it to show Peter all the amazing things he can do if he puts his faith into action? Is it to show him the weakness of his faith? Is it to embolden and strengthen Peter’s faith for greater miracles in the future? If Peter’s faith was weak, was it his faith in himself? Or was it his faith that Jesus could save him from his own folly?

Peter had no business on the water. Jesus knew this, and so did Peter, I think. Jesus indulged his bizarre request in order not that Peter might be the focus of the story, but that Jesus might. It was Jesus who walked across the water, who had calmed the winds that were battering the ship earlier in the night. It is not Peter’s place to be the miracle worker. Not yet! And even when that time comes, it won’t be for Peter’s glory! Hardly! It will be the source of problems and arrests and persecutions (Acts 3-4). The life of faith is not ordinarily one of glamour and prestige. It is following the calling of our Lord – not telling our Lord how to call us (perhaps Job sounds a bit familiar here?). It is obedience even to death, even death in the most ignoble and shameful manner, so long as it is faithfulness to our Lord that brings us to that point.

Peter did not have to cry out to Jesus to save him. That was why Jesus had come! To save Peter. And to save you and I. Not from boredom or ennui, but rather from our very real enemies of Satan, sin, and death. For this it is Jesus that receives the glory, not us. It is Jesus who walks on water as the Son of God and author of creation, not you and I as mere creatures. This is not our place, and it’s best if we learn it, come to peace with it, and ultimately take joy and satisfaction in it!

Reading Ramblings – August 6, 2017

July 30, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 6, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26; Romans 9:1-13; Matthew 14:13-21

Context: God provides body and soul for his people, desiring their good both now and eternally.

Isaiah 55:1-5 – The Lord extends his goodness to his people through is Word. In Chapter 54 the Lord extols the love that is now available to his people because of the guilt offering of his chosen one as detailed in Chapter 53. Chapter 55 has the Lord continuing to offer goodness to his people, before He begins extending that goodness to all peoples, which was his intent from the beginning. The short reading for this morning emphasizes the peace and prosperity that will come to the Lord’s people. While the language makes us think of food, throughout these verses the implication is that it is the Lord’s Word that is the food and drink. By listening (v.2), the hearer is able to receive what is good – rich food. By listening to God’s word (v.3), the hearer receives more than just physical sustenance but eternal, spiritual nourishment. As God raised up David from obscurity to make everlasting promises to him, so all those who are faithful in revering God’s Word will be lifted up from obscurity to honor and the glory that only God can bestow.

Psalm 136:1-9 (23-26) – This psalm is a call and response format – the leader chants the differing call, and the congregants respond by repeating for his steadfast love endures forever. The repetition is intended to focus attention, to give people time to really consider what is being said and what the appropriate response should be. God is to be given thanks (vs.1-3) because He alone is god, and because his steadfast love endures forever. What greater reason could there be to give thanks and praise to God? Verses 4-9 invite the congregation to give praise to God for his creative acts, with many of the verses echoing the days of creation in Genesis 1. Verses 10-22 are skipped in the assigned reading in the interest of brevity, but recount the Lord’s specific works of salvation and rescue throughout the Old Testament. Verses 23-26 conclude the hymn with more generic references to the Lord’s mercy and grace and his sustaining of his creation.

Romans 9:1-5 (6-13) – Paul takes a marked turn in his focus of the letter. Launching from his words of praise and thanksgiving at the end of Chapter 8, he addresses a terrible situation – many of God’s chosen people, the descendants of Abraham – refuse to accept Jesus the Christ as the ultimate expression of God’s love towards his creation (8:39). How can this be? Paul feels the need to deal with this issue now. Undoubtedly more than a few of the Roman Christians were Jewish, and likely disturbed that so many of their kinsmen refused to see what the Word of God plainly pointed towards in the person and ministry, the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

It isn’t that God’s chosen people have lacked for any divine providence and guiding. Quite the opposite! Adoption, glory, covenants, the Law, worship and promises – the Jews of all people in creation have a unique relationship with and knowledge of God! They are the descendants of his chosen man, Abraham, and from their ranks God brought forth his messiah, the fulfillment of his promise to Eve in Genesis 3:15 They of all peoples should have been the first to acclaim and welcome Jesus – certainly after his resurrection from the dead if not beforehand! Paul would be willing to sacrifice himself, to be eternally rejected if only it would mean that the fullness of God’s people would receive salvation in Jesus Christ!

Verses 6-13 begin to address the elephant in the room. If Paul is so confident of how God the Father is working through God the Holy Spirit to draw all people to salvation through God the Son, how is it that God’s chosen people are missing out? Is God somehow shortchanging them? Is He sneaking something by them? Does their rejection of the Messiah somehow reflect poorly on God himself? Not at all. He begins his analysis by noting that physical heredity is not the sole determinant of being recipients of God’s promises. In other words, throughout the Old Testament and particularly in the time of the patriarchs, God was very selective in who He included in his promises. Isaac was included but not Ishmael. Jacob was chosen but not Esau. All shared the proper lineage – they all descended from Abraham – but not all received the promise. His argument is that a similar thing is happening now – only some are open to the truth of Jesus Christ as the promised messiah. God who knows all things has foreseen this as well, and it continues his means of bringing glory to himself by determining who continues within his promises and who does not.

This is NOT the same as predestination. It is simply the recognition that God is God and does things how and as He pleases for his purposes. This does not remove our moral responsibility to obedience and faith (vs.19ff). But it is an unavoidable reality which helps to explain why many of God’s chosen people are rejecting the Christ.

Matthew 14:13-21 – Jesus seeks solitude to deal with his grief at hearing of his relative John the Baptist’s execution. However the crowds, likely unaware or John’s death, or perhaps not thinking of how it would impact Jesus, or perhaps simply overwhelmed by their own need and hunger for the words and ministry of Jesus, seek him out. Jesus responds with compassion (similar to his response in the Gospel from a few weeks back – 9:36). Instead of removing himself, He comes to shore again to heal their sick. We can imagine Jesus seeing person after person, speaking to them, laying his hands on them. We can imagine the joy and celebration among the people to have their loved ones restored. Who could leave when such amazing things were happening? Is anyone going to leave and not receive healing just because it’s getting dark? Hardly! So impressive was this day and evening that all four Gospels record it (Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6).

The disciples expect Jesus to send the crowds away so that they can get food, since the disciples clearly are not able to either provide or purchase food for them. Jesus gives compassion by healing, the disciples (perhaps?) exhibit compassion by saying it’s time for people to leave and eat (and so they themselves can eat as well?). It’s curious that all the Gospel writers except Luke specifically note that it was grassy (and green grass as well) where the people were to sit down to be fed.

John’s account tells us that this is near the Passover, and that along with how Jesus prays a blessing, breaks the food, and gives it to his disciples provide strong links to his later giving of the bread and wine at the Last Supper, instituting the Lord’s Supper. That the people are not close at hand to a town or a source of easy food might evoke memories of God’s people wandering in the wilderness in Exodus. In that wilderness God provided for the physical needs of his people through Moses. But here, one greater than Moses is at hand. Jesus provides the miraculous multiplication of the food – taking, breaking, handing to his disciples, who hand to the people, who eat until they are full. Unlike the wilderness, where the manna could not be saved, here there are 12 baskets of leftovers! Such abundance! Such provision! It might be easy to conceive of God as only concerned about our spiritual lives, but time and time again He demonstrates his love and care for his creation physically as well as spiritually. He takes the time to create, to heal, to feed, and ultimately to redeem us body and soul through the incarnate Son of God, Jesus. God is not only God at the time of our death, but at every moment from our conception to our entry into glory.

Reading Ramblings – July 30, 2017

July 23, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – July 30, 2017

Texts: Deuteronomy 7:6-9; Psalm 125; Romans 8:28-39; Matthew 13:44-52

Context: The readings today focus on God’s love and care for his people. This is love and care not based on population size or meritorious conduct, but solely on the love and grace of God. This love of God’s far surpasses our own capacity to love, and our deepest commitments pale in comparison to the sacrificial commitment of God to his creation.

Deuteronomy 7:6-9 – The reading starts with the declaration that God’s people are holy in the sight of God. We might expect that this would then proceed to a declaration of how good they have been or the particular actions and qualities that merit them this holiness in God’s eyes. Instead, the passage emphasizes not the people but rather God. It is God who has decided to make his people holy, based solely on his love and graciousness rather than on their merit. While much of contemporary worship seems focused on repetitious declarations of love and adoration for God, what makes us his people is not our love for him but rather his love for us. We more rightly emphasize his steadfastness rather than our own, his commitment rather than our own, and his glory rather than our own.

Psalm 125 – Those who put their faith in God oftentimes seem weak by the world’s standards. In the face of violent opposition, Christians have often gone to their deaths, been imprisoned, and suffered myriad smaller-scale persecutions. After all, our kingdom is not of this world, and those who are intent on claiming this world in the short term are apt to look at Christians as easy targets. But the reality is far different. God is always with his people. And while his people may be allowed to suffer and die, these things are only temporary inconveniences compared to the eternal joy we are promised in the grace of God. As such, God’s protection is not temporary but eternal (v.2), and evil will not be allowed to rule indefinitely over God’s people or they may be tempted to think that evil has won and there is nothing left to do but give in and participate in evil. While evil may hold the day – may hold the day for months and years and even decades at a time, it is not permanent, and its rule is always held in check by the power of God and his love for his people. It is in this assurance that we are to find our peace. Oftentimes peace on our own terms – financial, political, cultural dominance – is impossible. But our peace is in God who created us, redeems us, and has promised to bring us to his kingdom eternally.

Romans 8:28-39 – We come to the end of this section of Romans. In last week’s section, Paul had laid out the first two of three reasons why the Christian can endure the suffering of this world. The first is that the suffering of this world is momentary compared to the vast expanse of eternity. The second is that the Holy Spirit of God within us intercedes on our behalf in the midst of our suffering, even when we ourselves aren’t consciously able to find the words to pray. The last of his three reasons is that God works all things for good for those who love him (v.28). This is not saying that suffering is not real, or that there is not actual evil in the world. Rather, it says that while there is suffering and evil in the world, the Christian rests in the assurance that they are God’s, and as we have already received reconciliation and grace through the sacrifice of the Son of God, we know that our eternal condition has been declared. We might have to suffer here and now, but that suffering is for a limited amount of time (v.18), and we do not suffer alone (v.26). The Christian does not seek out suffering, but if and when it comes we don’t simply endure it but we look for God to be at work in, through, and despite it. Paul has already touched on this topic in 5:1-5. God can make us better and stronger through our suffering if we will trust in him and allow him to. This is working towards our good both here and now, as his children and as witnesses to his love and glory, and as we are shaped more and more, molded and prepared for the eternal weight of glory that we are promised through faith in Jesus Christ.

Matthew 13:44-52 – Throughout this chapter Jesus has been describing the kingdom of God, showing how it differs from our understanding of power and dominion. As this section of Matthew draws to a close Jesus concludes with three very brief metaphors for the kingdom of heaven – far briefer than the previous ones in this chapter.

It is tempting to hear these as descriptions of how we are to be about the kingdom of heaven, as though we are the active characters in each. However the last of the three parables makes it clear that this is mistaken. These are parables about the kingdom and rule of God and how He goes about things. In each case God is shown to be unlike any other king we might ever have heard about on earth.

In the first parable, the kingdom of heaven is compared to a field with a treasure buried in it. The confusion comes in when we presume that the kingdom of heaven is being described as something hidden in a field, waiting to be discovered by you and I who are glad to sacrifice everything in exchange for it. Traditionally this parable has been turned into an exhortation about what kind of disciple we are to be – what sort of citizen is worthy of the kingdom of heaven. Only the one who gives up everything else in order to possess that citizenship.

But this is problematic, in that in our sinful nature we are incapable of giving up everything else and wholeheartedly embracing the kingdom of God. We can never be deserving of citizenship there if that is what the parable is saying. But I side with those scholars (few in number) who interpret this parable in reverse. It is we who are the buried ones (as in death), that God gives up everything (his Son) in order to possess us forever. In this way, the parable really is about the kingdom of God and the sacrificial love of our God for us. Some object that we would be compared with a treasure, but isn’t this how God sees us? Isn’t this why He sends his Son to die on our behalf, because He loves us and his love is what conveys value?

Similarly in the next parable, it is God seeking out valuable pearls and selling everything in order to possess it. In both cases the parable is not literal – God does not give up everything, but He did give up a great deal to cause his Son to become one with us and to suffer and die.

The final parable makes it clear that these interpretations of the previous two are reasonable, if not historically popular. It clearly describes the active work of God and his angels in sorting through humanity like fish, keeping the righteous ones and casting out the evil ones. What determines righteousness vs. evil? Whether we recognize how God has sought us out and died in order to claim us as his own forever.

Unlike earlier parables, Jesus’ disciples are able to understand these. Jesus seems pleased, as it is his job – and will be their job – to continue to share truths both known and unknown. This continues to be the role of the Church in the world – witnessing to the outrageous love of God for each person as attested to by his Word to us in the Old and New Testaments.

Romans 8:18-30

July 20, 2017

The Epistle lesson in Year A of the 3-year lectionary cycle in use with many Christian congregations and denominations is this section from St. Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians.  Actually, it overlaps slightly with the reading for next week, as the section is broken (atrociously!) in the lectionary cycle between verse 27 and 28.  But for this discursus, I’ll deal with what the proper section should have been – verses 18-30.

Paul has masterfully developed his theme of justification exclusively by the grace of God the Father through faith in the atoning sacrifice of God the Son, Jesus the Christ.  He’s laid out how the Old Testament clearly shows this has always been God’s way of working.  He’s discussed the role of the Law now for Christians, not as a condemning force that consigns us to death in our sins, but as the good and holy Word of God that guides and protects us as we live out our lives of faith.  He’s made it clear that the Christian life is fundamentally different than whatever life we might have led before being brought to faith in Jesus.  This may necessitate some rather major changes in how we think, speak, and act.  Paul does not preach cheap grace – whereby we keep doing what we want trusting in Jesus as our Get-out-of-hell-free card.  The Christian is able to strive towards holier living because of the indwelling presence of God the Holy Spirit within them.

But the reality is that we will never be fully freed from sin in this lifetime.  There will be a war within us every day of our lives between the sinful desires that are still part of us and the righteous and holy part of us made possible through faith in Jesus the Christ.  Yet we struggle on!  And part of that struggle, Paul mentions at the end of verse 17, is that we will suffer in this world.  Suffering is a topic Paul has already briefly mentioned back in Chapter 5:1-5, where he discussed that for the Christian, suffering is never fruitless because God who is with us and in us and for us will use periods of suffering to further define and refine our character.  While we don’t crave suffering, if and when we encounter it we do so in the knowledge that God is with us and working in and through us.

Now in Chapter 8 Paul comes back to the topic of suffering.  It might seem that we who are striving after God should somehow be protected from suffering and persecution in our faith, but this is not the case.  Suffering for the faith or because of the faith is often part of the Christian life (despite the historical anomaly that is America over the past 200 years).  How is the Christian to deal with this suffering?  Certainly in part, she should remember what Paul said back in Chapter 5 – that God is working in and through and despite our suffering and therefore we should actively look for and expect such work, not simply the elimination of our suffering.

Here in this section of Chapter 8, Paul lays out three reasons why the Christian should be able to endure suffering while still praising God.  Firstly, whatever suffering we endure is brief compared with the vista of eternity that we continually cast our gaze towards.  Our culture insists that our life is really just the timespan of life as we know it, maybe 100 years or so if you’re lucky, so you better make it count.  More accurately, our culture says that really the most important and vital part of that lifespan extends from about 16 to 30, so you need to make those years count.  Have fun!  Experiment!  Follow your bliss!  Ignore the massive damage this can do to you and those around you!  Don’t stop to think about the long term!

But the Christian seeks to maintain the Biblical perspective – our life is a gift of God that we seek to enjoy but more specifically to use as an opportunity to praise and worship him.  This life does not end at death but continues into eternity.  So if in this life we practice restraint and self-discipline, it is not a waste – it leads us towards something far better!  Likewise, if our existence here and now entails suffering, we know that it is only for a period of time.  By keeping this perspective, we have one means by which to endure the suffering in our life.

Secondly, the Christian can endure suffering is brought out in verse 26 – we do not suffer alone.  The Holy Spirit of God is always with us and doesn’t simply passively abide within us but is active in his intercessions on our behalf.

In the midst of suffering we may be bewildered, frustrated, angry.  We may be unable to focus or concentrate our thoughts, to the point where we aren’t even able to pray!  This might be a terrible thought for us – are we abandoning God because of the suffering in our lives?  Because we’re too frazzled or absorbed in our pain to pray?  By no means!  God the Holy Spirit himself is praying and interceding on our behalf.  Beyond the level of words and articulations, without our actual involvement, even.  We are never left alone, and God himself knows – because of the suffering of Jesus – how deeply suffering can affect us and disrupt our routines and abilities.  So we endure suffering knowing that God is with us and for us and within us at all times!

Paul’s third reason that the Christian can endure suffering is in verse 28 – we know that God works all things for good for those who love him.  This is a restatement or summary in some ways of Paul’s discussion in Romans 5:1-5.  God is at work in us constantly and pervasively, and suffering does not change this but in fact may offer unique opportunities for such divine work.

We need to be careful in our interpretation here.  Verse 28 is not saying that suffering is not real, that evil is not real, that we are simply deluded or misinformed about what goes on within and around us.  The Bible never denies the reality of suffering and persecution and evil, and we never should as well!  But if we suffer in such a way, the Christian rests assured that the suffering cannot separate us from God’s love.  It does not eclipse his goodness to us.  And if we trust in him, one day we will be able to see how He was at work in us during our suffering – upholding, shaping, molding, pruning.  Again, we don’t look for suffering, but when we encounter it, we do so knowing that God is not absent in our suffering, and therefore our suffering has actual meaning – a meaning exactly contrary to the intent of that suffering when it is imposed upon us by those antagonistic to God and to our faith in Christ.

The Christian suffers as no other person can or does suffer, because we can endure it through our faith.  We do so knowing that the suffering will only last so long, and then we will be free of it – perhaps temporarily but certainly eternally!  We endure knowing that God the Holy Spirit is within us interceding on our behalf even when we are unable to pray.  And we endure trusting that regardless of the type or source of our suffering, God is capable of working good things in and through and despite it.

All of this leads Paul to a concluding section of praise and confidence to and in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, before he moves on to a different topic in his letter.  This is such an important thing to me as a pastor, and as I come alongside people in the midst of very real suffering.

Today I visited one of our elderly, home-bound members.  I’ve been calling on her since I arrived at this parish seven years ago.  And in that time she has transitioned from a somewhat independent and mobile woman, full of the confidence and capability that I believe marked her whole adult life, to first a homebound woman and now a woman in her upper 90’s who requires 24-hour care and is physically a shadow of her former self.  She is often confused, and sometimes bewildered.  She speaks often of how she just wants to die and go to be with God.  I’ve talked about our times together before.

I wonder why it is that God has not called her home.  But Paul’s words in Romans 8 are important to me as I minister to her, and as I imagine spectres of my own future as I talk and pray with her.  He has not abandoned or forgotten her.  And while she and I may not know his reasons and timing, we need never trust his goodness and love.  I trust He has his reasons, and one day I’ll be at least better able to understand them and see their perfection.

Reading Ramblings – July 23, 2017

July 16, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 23, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 44:6-8; Psalm 119:57-64; Romans 8:18-27; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Context: If last week the theme was the reliability of God’s Word as something that we can thoroughly and completely trust, this week that reliability is contrasted with the foolishness with which we often neglect God for other sources of comfort and hope. We so easily find ourselves devoting great amounts of time to planning and arranging the aspects of our lives to our satisfaction, often times leaving God on the margins. Yet as we soak in his Word He is able to guide and lead us, his Word forming the path we walk both consciously and subconsciously. And in his Word we are able to better contextualize and make sense of the difficulties of life. Difficulties that are not evidence of God’s absence or lack of care, but which are opportunities to see God’s strength and love sustaining and nurturing us in the midst of our pain.

Isaiah 44:6-8 – Back in Chapter 41, the Lord calls his people to task over the issue of idolatry. He then goes on in the ensuing chapters to describe his people’s unfaithfulness and his own faithfulness, interspersed with promises of what He will yet do on their behalf. But now He comes back to the topic of idols, beginning with these verses questioning his people as to what other gods they think there are. God invites any other gods that might exist to step forward and make themselves known. He invites them to prophesy and tell of things yet to be as God has. The question is rhetorical. There are no other gods. Silence answers his invitation, leading God to give a detailed description of the ridiculousness of worshiping an image made by human hands in vs. 9-20.

Psalm 119:57-64 – The great acrostic psalm, each section begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet and each line in that section begins with a word that starts with that letter. The overarching theme of all of the sections of the psalm is the blessedness and beauty of God’s Word. Here the psalmist acknowledges that God’s Word is sufficient for our needs. In v.59 the psalmist acknowledges that his steps are not naturally aligned as they should be – he needs God’s Word to guide his steps. Of course not everyone is so inclined, and at times the plots and schemes of the wicked try to waylay and throw him off course. Even in the midst of such struggles God’s Word is foremost in his thoughts, and there is no time of the day when it is not appropriate to dwell on God’s Word, allowing it to fill him and guide him. This perseverance creates a community – a community of those faithful and trusting in God’s Word. We who spend so much time listening to the news or reading papers and magazines should consider the beauty and promise of allowing God’s Word to fill us each day, providing us with a steady and secure peace in the midst of whatever joys or struggles we encounter!

Romans 8:18-27 – Moving the major theme and subject of his letter to a close, Paul stops to deal with the issue of suffering. If we are the heirs of such eternal and divine blessings in Christ, are our lives perfect and beautiful? No. Firstly, we continue to struggle against the sin inside of us as Paul explained in Chapter 7. Secondly, we struggle in the midst of a broken and sinful world. We face real struggles like sickness and disease, old age and death, not to mention the possibility of persecution and ridicule on account of our hope in Christ.

However Paul gives three reasons why such trials and struggles can be endured. First, the struggles we face in life are small in comparison to the eternal joy and glory we look forward to. We carry within us new life in Christ, but that life is not fully revealed yet. We await it’s full revelation – indeed all of creation waits for that day along with us! And oh, how wonderful that day will be! In that day the struggles of this life will melt away like a bad dream that dissipates by the time we reach the breakfast table!

Secondly, we have the Holy Spirit of God himself within us interceding on our behalf. When we don’t know what to say to God, what to pray, what to ask. When we are exhausted emotionally or physically we are not cut off from God, but rather the Holy Spirit of God speaks on our behalf.

Thirdly, you have to wait until next week’s reading for the third reason and the conclusion of this section of Romans!

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 – Jesus tells another parable and then explains it to his disciples. For those who question the existence of evil, this isn’t a bad parable to take them to. Does God have the power and wisdom to take out evil? Yes, He does. But in the process, apparently his faithful might be endangered. Some on their way to faith might never reach that safe harbor. The problem of evil is not one to be laid at God’s doorstep but rather at Satan’s. It is he that tempted Adam and Eve to sin, knowing that if he succeeded untold suffering would ensue. It’s like an enemy that hides behind civilians to avoid being targeted. Ultimately, it isn’t that Satan won’t be brought to account. It isn’t that evil won’t be reckoned with and judged appropriately. God is not delaying out of some perverse joy in our suffering. Rather, in his perfect knowledge and wisdom, He waits so that as many people as possible can respond to the good news of Jesus Christ and be reconciled to him. He is intent on depriving Satan of as many people as possible, to the glory of God and our benefit and salvation.

Contradictions – Jesus in the Wilderness or at a Wedding?

July 14, 2017

The final contradiction I’ve been asked to deal with is this one – Mark’s Gospel (1:12-13) says that Jesus was sent into the wilderness immediately following his baptism to be tempted by Satan, and that He remained in the wilderness 40 days.  This is allegedly contradicted by John’s Gospel (2:1), which allegedly says that Jesus was in Cana three days after his baptism to attend a wedding.  Matthew (4:1-2) and Luke (4:1-2), although not as imperative as Mark’s account, clearly indicate that Jesus goes to the wilderness pretty quickly after his baptism.   Which means that John appears to be the odd man out on this one, and we should focus on his account.

First off, we need to note that John does not describe Jesus’ baptism in a narrative sense, but rather only by John’s recollection of the event (1:29-34).  And as John recounts his experience at Jesus’ baptism, he is speaking about it in the past tense – something that has already happened prior to John pointing Jesus out in v.29.  John’s account therefore mentions three days, but not the three days immediately following Jesus’ baptism.

Jesus is baptized on Day X, which could easily have been 40-some days earlier.  But John’s Gospel begins numbering days based on when he is interrogated about his own identity.  He is interrogated on day 1 (1:19-28).  The day after his interrogation he points out Jesus (1:29) and testifies about Jesus’ identity.  Thus the third day mentioned in 2:1 is the third day after John’s interrogation, not after Jesus’ actual baptism.

Once again, an alleged contradiction is based on a superficial reading of the texts, without any interest or effort in attempting to make sense of them.  If there is a reasonable explanation for the apparent contradiction, it is unfair to insist it is a contradiction.

 

Contradictions – Saul’s Conversion

July 13, 2017

A contradiction is alleged because there are slightly variant reports of Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus.  Acts 9:7 indicates that Paul’s associates – likely soldiers and perhaps religious officials accompanying to Damascus to arrest Christians – saw the light which blinded Paul and heard a voice but did not see the person speaking.  Yet Paul claims in 22:9 that his companions saw the light but did not hear a voice.  Additionally, in Acts 26 Paul claims (or at least implies) that his companions saw the light but he does not state whether or not they heard the voice or not.

We should first define our context.  Luke writes the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, which is in fact the second of two writings of Luke that were originally one text and later separated into his Gospel account of Jesus’ life and the book of Acts which details early Church history and apostolic activity.  Luke states at the beginning of his Gospel that he is drawing on multiple sources for his material.

If so, then Luke may be relying on a different account for his account in Chapter 9, an account that doesn’t come directly from Saul/Paul – or at least solely from him.  In Chapters 22 and 26 Luke is quoting Paul as he describes his own experience.  Could it be that Luke in his collection of accounts spoke with one of the other travelers with Paul, who indicates that they could hear the voice?  Is it possible that Paul was not aware of this fact, since the person may not have mentioned it to him initially out of fear – prior to Paul’s conversion – that he might be prosecuted as a Christian sympathizer?  Perhaps.

And perhaps Paul, becoming aware at a later point that his compatriots could indeed hear the voice, omits this from his description of the events in chapter 26.  IF this is the case, Paul became aware of this new information in a relatively short window of time – a matter of a few weeks at most between his testimony in Chapter 22 and his recounting in Chapter 26.

Grammatically the same Greek verb is used both in Chapters 9 and 22.  From what I can tell, this verb has both the connotation of to hear, but also the possible connotation of to understand.   Is it possible that Paul knows that the men heard a voice but couldn’t understand what it was saying, and that Luke highlights the first aspect of the verb in Chapter 9, while Paul more explicitly intends the secondary connotation in Chapter 22?  This seems a bit more likely to me than the idea that Paul is operating with insufficient knowledge but then suddenly is enlightened (although this certainly could be possible).

In any event, it clearly doesn’t have to be a contradiction, but could be a matter of interpretative definition.  Indeed, some translations (such as the ESV) render the verb in Chapter 9 in terms of hearing, and in Chapter 22 in terms of understanding.  To call this an example of Biblical contradiction or error seems far heavier-handed than the details warrant.