Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Jeremiah 2:1-13; Psalm 91; Romans 1:16-25; John 4:43-54
God sends Jeremiah to Jerusalem with questions that form words of indictment. God remembers Israel’s devotion in the wilderness wanderings and speaks of it as a honeymoon time. God led them through places no other could go, kept them safe and cared for them. They were holy to him, the “first fruit of his harvest” and any who “ate of it”—stood against them—experienced disaster. But upon entering the land of promise, things changed. They began to chase after worthless things (the Baal), forgetting the One who brought them out of Egypt. Their priests stopped calling on the Lord, the custodians of the law did not know him, the rulers transgressed against him and the prophets prophesied in the name of Baal. These are God’s accusations against them and their ancestors, as well as their children and their children’s children. God tells them to search to the most distant country to see if any other people have acted as stupidly as they have done, abandoning their God for another—even though there is no other. God’s people have exchanged their glory (their relationship with the Lord) for something that does not profit. They have committed two major evils: they have forsaken the fountain of living water, and instead, dug out cracked cisterns that can hold no water.
Psalm 91, a song of trust and confidence, is one of the most assuring in the entire collection of 150 psalms. Though it reflects the theology of the wisdom tradition, insisting that those who remain righteous shall have the constant protection of the Lord, it is even richer in its imagery and promises. The opening line, “He who,” can as equally be translated “You who,” or “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High (“Elyon”—one ancient name for God), who abide in the shadow of the Almighty (“El Shadday”—a second name for God), will say to “the Lord” (Yahweh—God’s personal name given to Moses at the bush), “My refuge, my fortress, my God in whom I trust.” All three names are included to make this as inclusive as possible, with the primacy given to the name Yahweh. Various forms of protection are mentioned, including the presence of God’s angels to defend in times of warfare or pestilence, and all other forms of danger. Under God’s wings we will find a refuge, whose faithfulness is a buckler and a shield, so that we need not fear anything night or day. Making the Lord our refuge assures protection. It is from this psalm that the devil quotes as he tempts and challenges Jesus to throw himself off the tower of the temple, trusting that God will save him. The psalm concludes with God’s own speech: “You who love me I will deliver. You who know my name I will protect. When you call (the importance of knowing God’s name, knowing who to call upon), I will answer; when in trouble, I will rescue and honor you. With long life I will satisfy you and show you my salvation.” Is it any wonder this has been the byword and hope of Jews, Christians and Muslims? This psalm is a favorite of military chaplains, frequently read before a group of soldiers facing battle. It is also regularly read at funeral and memorial services and times of grave national distress.
Paul announces two things foundational to his gospel: it is the power of God for salvation, and it is for everyone. In it, God’s righteousness is revealed. “From faith to faith”—from God’s faithfulness to our trust in it. But God’s righteousness has another side—God’s wrath. It reveals itself when it encounters the ungodliness and injustice of those who suppress the truth. And though God’s presence, nature and power have been clearly revealed to all humanity, in and through the created order, and, though people have known God, they have chosen neither to honor nor give God thanks, but, rather, have entered into their own speculations about God and the world. Supposing they are wise, they have actually become fools and have ended up offering to idols made with their own hands, the glory and worship that belongs solely to God. Consequently, God has given them over to their own pursuits, quests that lead them into the impurity, corruption and dissipation that such behavior inevitably brings. Exchanging truth for a lie, they have chosen to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. This is Paul’s sweeping condemnation of Roman-Greco culture that all but worshipped the body, whose symposiums often degenerated into sexual orgies, and where, in Rome, the Emperor was worshiped as a god! The foundation of all ungodliness and unrighteousness is the human compulsion to worship ourselves and the work of our hands, make gods out of things and then worship them, and ignore the One who made us. But the gospel brings power to change that and to do so for everyone.
After two days in Samaria, Jesus continues his journey north, but rather than stopping in his home town of Nazareth, he moves further north to Cana, for Jesus knows that prophets are not honored in their own land. When he gets to Cana, he encounters people there who had been in Jerusalem at the feast and who know of the things he had done there. While there, a royal official from Capernaum, whose son is dying, learns that Jesus has come up from Judea to Cana. The official makes the journey west to come to Jesus in order to ask him to come to Capernaum and heal his son. Initially, Jesus seems to rebuke the official, or is he simply expressing his frustration with what it takes for people to recognize truth and light, saying that, unless they see signs and wonders, the people will not believe? The man pleads again, and Jesus tells him to go home, his son will live. Believing Jesus, the man leaves to return home. On his way, he is met by a servant who has come to tell him his son has recovered. When the man asks at what time the boy began to be better, the servant identifies the very hour at which Jesus had told the official that his son would live. The man recognizes it, and we are told that “he believed and his whole household.” This then is the second sign Jesus performed in Galilee.
Monday, March 2, 2015
Jeremiah 1:11-19; Psalm 6; Romans 1:1-15; John 4:27-42
Jeremiah is given a vision to validate what he has heard: the branch of an almond tree. The Lord responds, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.” This has nothing to do with almond rods and everything to do with the word play that is hidden in the Hebrew. The word for almond rod (shaqed) and watch over (shoqed), sound all but identical. Jeremiah has recognized the rod and is seeing (and hearing) rightly. Moreover, the Lord is watching over his word to assure that it comes to fulfillment. The words that Jeremiah are told to speak are God’s words, and God will “perform them.” Jeremiah is given a second vision: a boiling pot tilting away [in/from] the north. It is a vision of the disaster that is to come as peoples and kings from the north descend upon Jerusalem, set up their thrones at the city gates, against its walls and the cities that surround it. Disaster is about to befall Judah, because they have worshiped other gods and bowed down to idols made by their own hands. The Lord tells Jeremiah to “gird up your loins,” a common call to bravery in battle, and stand before the leadership of Judah and tell them what the Lord has said. He is not to flinch, bend or break before them, but to stand firm, because the Lord has today made him a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall against all of them: the king, the land, the priests, the princes, and all the people of the land. Though they will fight against Jeremiah, they will not prevail, because the Lord is with him. In many ways, Jeremiah’s life is to be a symbol of Israel’s unfolding life—what he goes through they will go through, with redemption coming at the end. But it is much too soon for that now.
Psalm 6 is a plea for God’s gracious care in what the psalmist believes to be the result of God’s rebuking wrath. In the midst of his languishing need, he begs for healing of body and soul, for both shake in terror. “How long, O Lord—how long?” It is the cry of all who suffer unjustly or without reason. In such a state he begs the Lord to return, to save his life, and deliver him for the sake of nothing more than God’s steadfast love. Notice that at no time does the psalmist admit guilt or confess sin, only that he is on the verge of death and that, in death, there is no remembrance or praise of God. It is as though he is saying to God, “Do not let me die, for if I die I will not be able to remember you or praise you.” He has spent too many nights flooding his bed with tears, his days, likewise, drenching his couch and he is wasting away with grief. Now, for the first time, he mentions foes—workers of evil and demands that they leave him. And suddenly, the psalm turns from grief to strength, from fear and lament to confidence, for the Lord has heard the sound of his weeping. The Lord has heard his supplication and has accepted his prayer. All his enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror. In a moment they shall turn back and be put to shame.
Today we begin to read what many consider Paul’s greatest theological work, his letter to the church at Rome, with its central theme: salvation by grace through faith. The Roman church was established in the capital of the empire long before Paul began his missionary work. Though tradition traces the church’s roots to Peter, there is no evidence of Peter in Rome until the 50s, and Christianity was present in Rome well before that. The church was initially made up of Jewish converts who may well have been among the pilgrims in Jerusalem at Pentecost. As these returned to proclaim Christ in the synagogues of Rome, riots broke out so severely among the Jews that in 49 AD, the Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome. Upon Claudius’ death five years later, Jews began to return to Rome and to their church, which, in their absence, had grown but become Gentile. The return created significant tensions, of which Paul was aware. Much of the book will address issues of the Law, circumcision, the role and fate of Israel—questions that were being hotly debated in the struggling church as it strove for faithfulness. Paul writes to them about the reconciling power of the Gospel of God, in Christ, first to the Jew, and then to the Gentile. Today, Paul sets forth his credentials to those he does not know first-hand but has heard about through his co-worker Priscilla and Aquila, who had been active leaders in the Roman congregation until forced to leave by the Imperial edict. They had come to Ephesus and had taken up work with Paul. Paul reveals his motivation for coming to Rome: to strengthen and be strengthened by the Romans, to assist them: to preach the Gospel among them, a Gospel he has been commissioned to preach to all Gentiles, whether the sophisticated in Rome or the barbarians beyond it. Stay with us as we plumb the depths and riches of this book that is first among the Epistles and one of the foundational texts for Christian faith and life.
The disciples return from their search for food and are startled to find Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman, but none of them dare ask him why. In the interruption, the woman takes the opportunity to depart, leaving her water jar behind. Is it simply an oversight or something she did in haste? Hardly! No woman would leave her water jar behind unless she no longer felt a need for it. The author wants us to know that she has drunk from a different well and her thirst has been satisfied. She returns to her town and tells all who will listen that she has met a man that has told her everything she has ever done; can he be the Christ? And so, those she talks to leave the city and, with her, return to the well. Meanwhile, the disciples try to get Jesus to eat something, which gives him a context in which to talk about the work he has been sent to do as “food,” and the fact that they too are being incorporated into that work. Another has sowed, now it is time for them to reap. The harvest is rich and ready. In the midst of this conversation, the woman returns with the people from the city, some of whom already believe in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony—speaking of rich harvest beyond expectation—and they ask Jesus and his companions to stay with them (the cultural and religious barriers are coming down), and they do so for two days. Consequently, many more Samaritans believe in Jesus “because of his word.” The story ends with the people confessing that their belief is no longer based upon what the woman said, but rather by what they have seen and heard. Now they know that he is not simply “the Christ,” but “the Savior of the World.” Yet another title has entered the lexicon that seeks to define Jesus.
Sunday, March 1, 2014
Jeremiah 1:1-10; Psalm 32; 1 Corinthians 3:11-23; Mark 3:31—4: 9
Today we begin reading the Book of Jeremiah. Notice I did not say “the prophet Jeremiah.” This is a book about the prophet and his life and work in the chaotic time prior to the Babylonian invasion in 597 BCE, including its two invasions, the second with the destruction of Jerusalem’s walls, royal palace and temple, until the people returned from exile around 538 BCE. The book contains many forms of literature: poems and oracles from Jeremiah himself, biographical material from Jeremiah’s secretary, Baruch, and additional historical material added by the book’s final editors, and it was finally compiled after the exile’s return from Babylon. The purpose of the book is to make sense of the chaos that descended upon Israel in this period and to defend God against the charge of injustice, capriciousness, or impotence in the face of Babylonian gods. One of the things that makes this difficult for modern readers is that it is not laid out in a linear fashion, from past to present to future. Rather, it represents the ancient’s conviction that all three are at work at once to shape the present--the past by setting context and placing people in particular places, and the future by drawing it into the present to shape it. Therefore, dates and some events will seem confusing and out of sequence. We begin today with Jeremiah’s call. He is the son of a priest and is living in the land of Benjamin, which is near Jerusalem. The word of the Lord came to him in the 13th year of King Josiah’s reign (627 BCE), and continued for the next forty years until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah (587 BCE) when the nation fell, though Jeremiah’s ministry continued thereafter. God speaks to Jeremiah and tells him that before he began to take shape in his mother’s womb, God knew him, consecrated him, and appointed him a prophet to the nations. (This has nothing to do with when life begins but is an expression of the mystery, wonder and sovereignty of God and God’s ways. To the ancients, God is at work in our lives even before we come to be.) Jeremiah, like many prophets, initially resists the call, in his case, claiming that he does not know how to speak, is just a youth, and far too young for this task. The Lord replies, “Do not say ‘I am only a youth.’” God then tells him that he will go to whom God sends him and will say what God tells him to say. Jeremiah’s words are not the blog of a political commentator in 6th century Israel, and he is not a self-appointed political pundit—though his words will be deeply political as well as theological and, thus, will not be welcomed. Yet, he is not to be afraid, for God is with him and will deliver him—words he must have wondered about when he was left in a cistern to die. Then God comes and places his hand upon Jeremiah’s mouth, placing God’s word on Jeremiah’s lips, with this commission: “I appoint you over nations and kingdoms (not just Israel!), to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” But first, the destruction; only then can new life emerge.
Psalm 32 is a wisdom psalm in which the psalmist gives thanks for the gift of forgiveness. “Happy are those whose sin is covered.” He acknowledges that, while he kept silent about his sin, he wasted away, for the Lord’s hand was heavy upon him and his strength was dried up as the heat of summer dries all things. But when he acknowledged his sin, when he no longer hid it but confessed it, the Lord forgave him his guilt. The psalmist then instructs all who are faithful to offer such prayers of confession, promising that in a time of distress and the rush of many waters, these will not reach or overwhelm them. Again, addressing the Lord, he confesses that God is his hiding place, the One who preserves him from trouble and surrounds him with glad cries of deliverance. The psalm now turns to addressing others, instructing them in the way they should go: “Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near.” It concludes with one final double affirmation: “Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. Therefore: be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.”
There is a dispute brewing among the Corinthians concerning their leaders, in which a significant group is highly critical of Paul, his teaching and behavior among them. Some look to Paul, some look to Apollos and some to Peter (Cephas) as the “real” leader of the Corinthians community. Paul writes back that he did what he did among them according to the grace God gave him for his task—he was their founding pastor. He then goes on to cite principles of church leadership: each one builds on the work of the other and must choose with care how one builds, since the foundation has been laid by Christ. Those who build with precious resources and workmanship will find that, in the test of fire, their work will stand and they will receive a reward. Those who build with wood, hay and straw will find their work consumed in the fire and left in ashes and only they will survive. Just a few verses before, Paul has said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” Paul then leaves the subject of leaders to speak to the congregation: do they not realize that they are God’s temple and that the Spirit of God dwells in them (the “you” here is plural—Paul is speaking about the church, not individual believers, though the text is often preached that way). If any of them destroys God’s temple, God will destroy them, for God’s temple is holy. They are not to deceive themselves in their wisdom; it can lead to destruction. Rather, they should seek the foolishness of God, who catches the wise in their craftiness (Job 5:13) and knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile. So, let them not boast about their human leaders, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, much less their wisdom or any other gift for that matter. Let them boast only in the knowledge that they belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.
Jesus is teaching in his home in Capernaum when his mother and brothers arrive, and, standing outside (more than a geographic locator, they are “outsiders” in Jesus’ enterprise), they send a message to him, summoning him, probably home. When Jesus hears of this he asks, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And then, looking around him at those listening so intently as well as those following him, he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister (yes, this is not the translators being inclusive, the word is “adelphe, which means “sister”) and mother. Jesus is radically redefining the nature of the most fundamental relationships in human life, saying it is not about biology or blood line, but that anyone who does the will of God belongs to him. There is now a scene shift as Jesus has left the house and is teaching beside the sea. The crowd has now grown so large that he must commandeer a boat pushed back from the shore, in which to sit and teach the crowd before him. This introduces the first lengthy section of teaching in which Jesus uses parables to make his point, beginning, not unexpectedly, with a parable about one who teaches, those who listen, and what happens thereafter. How will they receive his words? Will it land on the hard beaten path, in rocky soil, among thorns, or onto good soil? No matter; the harvests of grain from the good soil will more than make up for what was lost on the others. How then, does his word fall on our lives, beaten down as they are, scattered with rocks and infested with the thorns of all sorts of life’s concerns? “Let anyone with ears to hear, listen!”
Saturday, February 28, 2015
Deuteronomy 11:18-28; Psalm 143; Hebrews 5:1-10; John 4:1-26
Bind these words to your hand and heart; place them on the doorposts of your houses and talk of them with your children on the way. This is the origin of the phylacteries and mezuzah—the former being the leather box attached to long thongs that is strapped to the forehead and to the right hand for prayer, the latter the small decorative case containing a piece of parchment upon which are written the words of the shema and the command to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, 11-21). These are to be symbols that continually remind the Israelites of their obligations of fidelity to the Lord. If they observe the commandments, then the Lord will go before them and drive out nations mightier than they, so that everywhere they place their foot, they shall prevail. Such faithfulness will produce for them a land stretching from the wilderness in the south to the forest of Lebanon in the north, and from the Euphrates in the east to the Mediterranean in the west, roughly the size of the kingdom at Solomon’s death, though some think the boundaries are exaggerated for piety sake. This is God’s blessing, but it is also a curse. Live by these commands and you will prosper; ignore them at your own peril.
Psalm 143 is the cry of one who has suffered defeat and turns to the Lord for help, recognizing that no one is righteous before the Lord, yet the Lord is merciful. He remembers the old days of victory, the days when the Lord was at hand. And so, he stretches out his hand in search of God lest he go down to the Pit. Pleading for God’s steadfast love, he has asked God to deliver him from his enemies, teach him his ways, and let God’s Spirit lead him on level paths. He is but God’s servant, and pleads no right of his own. Rather, he asks God to do all this for him because of God’s righteousness and steadfast love—for God’s name’s sake.
Hebrews reflects on Jesus as our high priest. In the Jewish sacrificial system, it was the priest who actually performed the sacrifices for the worshippers, serving as an intermediary between the worshipper and God. They all came from the tribe of Levi—Aaron’s descendants—and were chosen by lot for their service. Once a year, the high priest, chosen by lot, entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, there to make intercession for the people before God. Hebrews makes the point that high priests, because they were themselves “subject to weakness”, could deal gently with worshippers who came to offer sacrifice for sins, and, in fact, before the high priest could offer worshippers’ sacrifices, he must first offer sacrifice for his own sin. But Jesus had no need to offer sacrifice for his own sin and was appointed by his Father as “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” an ancient Canaanite king of Salem (Jerusalem) to whom Abraham paid tribute. Even so, in the days of his life, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud tears and cries, to the one who could save him from death. Is this a reference to Gethsemane, as we have no other gospel reports of this, save one reference in John, when Jesus embraces his task as necessary? Hebrews makes the point that though a Son, Jesus had to learn obedience through what he suffered, and thereby became perfect and the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. It is from this text that Calvin develops the third “office” of Christ as priest who intercedes for us before the Father. It is from here that Rome develops its own theology of the priesthood in the church, a doctrine that was challenged by the Reformers and is currently being challenged from within by Roman Catholics such as Garry Will, in his new book Why Priests: A Failed Tradition?
Word reaches the Pharisees in Jerusalem that someone besides John is baptizing out in the wilderness. When Jesus realizes they know what he is doing, he withdraws from Judea and heads north back home. To save time, or is it in order to have some “cover” from whatever Pharisees might try to follow him, he heads straight through Samaria. Samaria was “no man’s land” for Jews. The Samaritans and the Jews, who shared the first five books of Moses as their religious authority, had little else in common, and a long history of theological disagreement that broke into open hatred when the Samaritans helped the Babylonians in their siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE and, later, harassed the returning Jews in 538 BCE as they tried to rebuild the city. Jesus and his entourage enter Samaria and approach Sychar about noon. As the disciples go on into the city to look for food, Jesus stops at Jacob’s well for rest and refreshment. As he does, a woman from Sychar approaches to draw water. (The author’s note that it is the sixth hour is his way of saying this is an unusual time for her to come to the well unless there are reasons she prefers not to associate with the rest of the women of the village who would normally draw water in the morning and evening.) As she approaches Jesus, he asks her for a drink. She is shocked for two reasons: first, Jews did not speak to Samaritans, and, second, men did not speak to unknown women unless looking for sexual favor. He has violated a cultural taboo and put her on her guard. Hear that in her voice as she asks, “How is it, that you, a Jew, asks me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” Jesus responds, “If you knew the gift of God and who it was that is asking, you would be the one asking, and he would give you living water” (not the stale water of a cistern or this seepage well). She responds, “And just how, sir, would you get living water, you have nothing to draw it with and the well is deep. Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us this well?” Jesus tells her that everyone who drinks Jacob’s well water will thirst again, but those who drink of the water he gives will find it welling up into a spring of eternal life. This has become a much different conversation than she had expected, and though now, more open to it, she still does not know what is in store for her with this Jewish stranger. Immediately, she asks that he give her such water, not only so that her thirst may be quenched, but so she does not need to come back to the well again. Now that she is engaged in conversation, Jesus shifts the subject from water to husbands and tells her to go, get her husband, and bring him back. She says she has no husband; end of subject! Unsurprised and undaunted, Jesus says, “Indeed, what you say is true; you have had five husbands and the one you are now with is not your husband.” Stunned, and not sure where this is going, still, she thinks she is in the presence of a prophet. Consequently, she tries to shift the focus of the conversation away from herself and to matters theological: “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain (Gerizim, the old center of worship in the north, before the United Kingdom moved it to Jerusalem and where the Samaritans now worship), but your people say the place to worship is in Jerusalem (another point of contention between Jews and Samaritans). Jesus responds that the hour is soon coming when people will worship neither on Gerizim nor in Jerusalem. The Samaritans worship what they do not know; the Jews what they do know, for salvation is from the Jews. But, the hour is not only coming but is now when the true worshipper will worship the Father in Spirit and truth—precisely the kind of worship the Father seeks. God, after all, is Spirit, and those who worship God must do so in Spirit and in truth. More comfortable with this conversation, she presses her side of the argument further, saying, in effect, “I don’t know about that, but I know that the Messiah is coming, he who is called, ‘The Christ.’ When he comes, he will clear up this entire controversy and declare all things to us. Jesus simply responds, “I am.” Not only is he announcing to her that he is the Christ, he is doing so using the ineffable name for God—Ego Eimi—the first of a series of times Jesus will do so in this gospel. But this, his first use of “I am,” is not connected to a metaphor like “good shepherd,” “gate to the sheepfold,” etc., but directly to the central question of his identity: he is the Christ of God. The Greek text says, “I am, the one speaking to you.”
Friday, February 27, 2015
Deuteronomy 10:12-22; Psalm 130; Hebrews 4:11-16; John 3:22-36
Moses now turns to the essence of what it is God requires of the children of Israel—fear the Lord and to walk in his ways. Serve him with all their hearts and souls and keep the commandments. They are for their own welfare. Though the entire cosmos—all creation—belongs to the Lord, God chose their ancestors alone, and them as descendants, to be God’s prized possession. Utilizing the mark of the covenant, Moses commands the people to circumcise the foreskins of their hearts—the centers of their wills. Cut away the rebellion, for the Lord is not only their God, but is God of gods (a conviction that emerged after the Exile, which shows the hand of the Deuteronomic editor here). Though the Lord is impartial, still he executes justice for the widow, the orphan and the stranger—those whose lives are most vulnerable and who live on the margins of life. The people are commanded to love the stranger, because they too were once strangers in a strange land. Herein lies the biblical basis for dealing with immigrants and aliens. Care for them is a sign of our love for God. Again, the people are challenged to fear the Lord, worship only him, hold fast to him, and swear only by his name, for he is their praise. Think about what God has done: they went down to Egypt 70 in number and now they are as numerous as the stars in heaven.
Psalm 130 is a classic lament for those living “in the depths” of life, whether physical or emotional, waiting on God to come and save. Notice that it is also a “psalm of ascent.” It is being used by a pilgrim who has come to the temple in Jerusalem to worship God in the midst of despair. Out of the depths he has been crying to the Lord with no response. Now he pleads again for the Lord to hear his voice and supplication. Notice that the psalmist has moved beyond self-recrimination. This is about more than personal sin. The pit is not God’s punishment, for if God counted sin and thus punished, who would stand? No one—we would all find ourselves in the pit of God’s judgment! No; with God there is always forgiveness. And so, the psalmist continues to hold tenaciously to God’s word and wait and watch with an intensity that exceeds that of the watchmen waiting for the morning. The psalmist knows that, when God comes, it will be with steadfast love, healing and redemption. He prays, “Come, Lord; redeem all Israel!” This is a prayer for all who wrestle with depression, all with chronic or terminal illness, all who spend sleepless nights in anxiety and worry, and for any who find themselves in the pit of life for whatever reason.
Exhorting his readers to make every effort to enter into God’s rest, so that none fall through disobedience, the writer then makes a statement that has been memorized by countless but largely misunderstood, and employed as fodder in the “battle for the Bible.” “The word of God,” that is living, active, sharper than any two-edged sword that pierces until it divides what seems undividable and is able to judge our thoughts and intentions, is not the Bible. It is the living Word, Jesus Christ. Before him no creature is hidden, but all are laid naked and bare to the eyes of him to whom each must render an account. The Word of God is the judge at the end of history—it is to him that we are and will be accountable, not various lines of scripture. The purpose of scripture is to point us to him. Young people who wear bracelets inscribed “WWJD?” have got it right. The question is, “What would Jesus do?” That said; let us remember that he is also our great high priest who has entered through the heavens into the presence of the Father. So hold fast to our confession, for he sits there at the Father’s right hand as one who has been tested in every regard as we are, yet without sin. Consequently, he is not unsympathetic to our plight. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace (notice it is grace and not judgment) with boldness, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. This last phrase is often used as a call to prayer in Reformed liturgies, especially prayers of confession.
The encounter with Nicodemus complete, for now, Jesus and his disciples move on to the region of Judea where Jesus spends time with his disciples baptizing new followers. This is one of the few places in the gospel narratives where we know of Jesus baptizing followers in much the same way as John did. And, of course, this is in the same region where John is baptizing, which again, brings John back into the story as witness. One of John’s disciples comes to him to report that Jesus, to whom John himself has borne witness, is now baptizing “all who come to him.” John’s disciple is obviously concerned that Jesus is encroaching on John’s territory and ministry. John responds that Jesus can do nothing that has not been given to him from heaven. He then again reminds them that he is not the Christ but rather, one who was sent ahead of the Christ. “The bridegroom has the bride,” is John’s way of identifying Jesus as the “coming one,” and himself as forerunner and “the friend of the bridegroom.” As his friend, John rejoices, knowing that Jesus must increase while John must decrease. There follows a series of sayings about Jesus and John: Jesus from above, John from the earth, and the affirmation that the one who has come from heaven speaks the word of God and gives God’s Spirit without measure. He is the Son of God to whom God has given all things. Those who believe in him have eternal life; those who do not obey him will find the wrath of God abiding on them.
Author: The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson
Created: June 21, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, Pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, offers thoughts on today’s lectionary readings.