Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Saturday, February 19, 2011

eternity and faithfulness (2.13.11)

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
15See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Matthew 5:21-37
21“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

27“You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

31“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom’s mother, who died recently, but this passage always makes me think of my dad’s mom, Dorrie. Dorrie is kid-language for Dorthy, in case you were wondering. My earliest memory of going to church with Dorrie includes this passage. I can’t remember how old I was, maybe seven or eight, and I certainly don’t remember what the preacher had to say. I remember the two of us talking in the parking lot after church on the way to her car.

I was disturbed by all Jesus’s words about hell. I asked Dorrie if she thought we would go to heaven. She said, as a loving grandmother would, “Well Sam, you’re an awfully good boy, and I don’t think I’ve been too bad myself, so I think we’ll go to heaven.”

In some ways that’s usually how we think about heaven and hell. We imagine heaven as a place you go if you live the right way, while hell is reserved for the evil people in the world. Others imagine that heaven is a place for Christians (or Muslims) and everyone else, no matter how righteous, will go to hell. Some of us worry whether we are going to make the cut when judgment day arrives. We worry that for some reason or other we might not be good enough, or faithful enough or devout enough to get through those pearly gates. Some people seem to take pride in imagining that they wouldn’t possibly be welcome in heaven, though I suspect that posturing covers up some real anxiety about the future.

Judgment and the afterlife are a source of incredible hope and incredible fear, so much so that these ideas sometimes distract us from the here and now demands of discipleship. We can focus so much attention on whether we’re going to be in or out that we loose sight of the more important calling of faith in our everday lives.

The truth about judgment is that Christ already took care of it. Jesus took on himself the judgment that should be ours. Going to heaven isn’t about us anymore; it’s about Jesus. Out of love Christ took our sin to the cross and put its power to death. He was condemned in our place, suffered our penalty and freed us from sin’s power. He offers us his righteousness to wear when we come to judgment. So in the end we will be judged innocent not for ourselves, but because of Christ.

I’m convinced that in the end the love of Jesus will save every last one of us. The love that went to the cross isn’t going to see labels on the last day, and we aren’t going to be so full of pride we’ll hold on to our need to do things our way. In the end, as Paul writes, every knee will bend and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. On that day we’ll be glad to accept the gift of grace we’ve sometimes been slow to receive. Theology puts the truth in boxes that make it easier to understand God and the world. That’s useful as long as we understand that God and the world are too complicated to fit neatly in those boxes, even if they are well built and elegant.

Repairers of the Breach (2.6.11)

Isaiah 58:1-12
1   Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.
2   Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways,
     as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
 they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.
3   “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.
4   Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist.
  Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, 
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
     Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

6   Is not this the fast that I choose:
          to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke,
     to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
7   Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
 and bring the homeless poor into your house;
     when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8   Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly;
     your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9   Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
 you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

    If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10  if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
11  The LORD will guide you continually, 
and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong;
     and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water,  whose waters never fail.
12  Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

Matthew 5:13-20
13“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

            It sounds to me like Isaiah’s audience was frustrated. They were frustrated because they put a lot of energy into their religious life as a nation. They fasted when they were supposed to; they observed all the religious festivals with exuberance; they adorned the temple with expensive gifts.

They were frustrated because they did all this and yet still felt far away from God. They fasted, but it seemed like God didn’t see them; they humbled themselves, but felt like God wasn’t paying attention. They spent more than they could afford on worship and on the temple for God, but they couldn’t hear God’s voice anymore.

God says through Isaiah that there’s a simple reason the people feel far from God: they aren’t really listening. The people are trying to hear God’s voice in the present, but they aren’t doing what God had already told them to do. They had pretty clear instruction in the Law and prophets about how God wants to be sought. God wants people to treat their neighbors with justice and to look out for each other. God wants Israel to be a demonstration of love and peace.

From the beginning of Israel’s existence as a nation God’s call to justice had been clear. Now in Isaiah’s time, the people are ignoring God’s message. They are letting the hungry go hungry and the naked to stay naked. Then, while they ignore God’s commands, they seek new messages from God and can’t figure out why they don’t hear anything.

Like most prophetic messages in scripture, Isaiah’s words here are both challenging and hopeful. I feel them aimed at me and at us today. Could it be that we sometimes feel far away from God because we ignore the things we already know about God’s will for our lives?