Lectionary text for Sunday, 10/17/2010
Stray thoughts, false leads, ceremonies that have lost their meaning, files of information that may never be used — it’s the confetti of life. It gums up the brain, the computer and the church. Proper 24 turns the Rock of Ages into fertile ground, soft soil where new faith can grow and take root. It acknowledges the foundation of history but leans on a present, living relationship with God to reboot the rhythm of faith.
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
After the exile to Babylon, Jeremiah foresees a day when Judah and Jerusalem will get a fresh start, a new covenant, without the baggage of sin and error that was the downfall of the ancestors. This new generation will no longer be dependent on the history of Exodus to validate their faith. Instead, they will have their own relationship with God, a law written on their hearts, more readily available than stone tablets and parchment scrolls.
The story of new beginnings is as old as the exile from the Garden, the tower of Babel and the great flood. The spirit of new beginnings was co-opted by Jesus, the apostles and Paul to describe a faith freed from the traditions and restrictions of the past, based on a new revelation directly from God. The history of God shows strength and stability, but the presence of God shows life and relationship.
Faith that is based on history alone becomes gummed up, burdensome, sluggish. But the history of our faith, the Holy Bible, is filled with examples of new beginnings, restarts, reboots, that keep our faith fresh and alive.
I do not shrink from your judgments,
because you yourself have taught me.
Wisdom becomes relevant when it is internalized. The psalmist doesn’t simply know the law, but loves it, because he has been dwelling on what it means in his life. “Oh, how I love your law! All the day long it is in my mind.” In this psalm, the law is indeed written on the heart, and not merely on parchment. It is beloved for its Source, received not as a burden, but as a gift, and a life is enriched by its application.
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
Here’s a troublesome passage, but only because of how it has been abused. The usefulness of scripture is in its application, but it is a narrative in motion. The eternal truth of Scripture is unchanging, but that Scripture itself is an illustration of change. Laws that applied to one generation are superseded and retired in the text itself. The prophets lambast the people for following the letter of the law to the detriment of its spirit.
For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.
Teach the truth of Scripture and the history of Law. Teach also the life of the narrative, the constant flow of human error and Divine grace, the lesson of God’s displeasure with those who use God’s law to usurp God’s mercy. “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves and you hindered those who were entering.” (Luke 11:52)
We are all tempted to tickle the ears of the listeners and readers, going along with what we know are their preconceived notions of scripture and faith, or joining the cynics in dismissing it lightly. The cure is to pray persistently, as in the Luke passage, and to covet the passion of the psalmist to not merely know, but also lovingly apply God’s truth in our own lives.
Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
We may give up on religion, but let us never give up on prayer. How often we are tempted to throw up our hands and just go along, never mind making sense of the Text, just wrap it in clever words and fill in the sermon blank! As Disciples of Christ, we have a duty to “be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching” — as the Timothy passage states. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith in our lives?
There is a divine interconnectedness in Scripture that connects Lectionary passages in ways that the Lectionary assemblers might never have imagined. In the Luke passage, Jesus tells of an unjust judge who is willing to ignore the law but cannot ignore the persistent widow crying for justice. The Old Testament passages salute the Law, but more importantly underscore the internalization of Scripture. Finally, in the Gospel passage, Jesus seems to say that passion and desire have the power to move God even when the Law is ignored.
Scripture is the living word of God; Jesus is the word of God made flesh. Life implies change. The unchanging Word even documents change as being a good thing in the life of faith.
Even as Scripture anchors our faith, let it also illustrate that newness, forgiveness, and freshness are the hallmarks of Christian life. Let’s thank God for new beginnings, clean slates, and the divine reboot.