Today in the Spirit: Proper 8A

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This coming Sunday’s readings from Proper 8A prolong in the worshiper a sense of end-time-like distress, though the content is not about our future but the present, the world in which we now live under the reign of Christ who has come, died, risen, and ascended. Accompanied by these Year A readings in particular, the Collect becomes a plea from us who believe to be preserved on the right side of the transition in progress: “Put away from us all hurtful things, and give us those things that are profitable for us.” The Gospel reading assigned from Matthew 10:34-42 brings us to the end of Jesus’ teaching discourse to the twelve disciples going out on mission in Palestine. Our Lord’s statements set in the negative, that he comes not to bring peace and that those who choose others over him are not worthy of me, set the tone for the church’s messaging this day. The OT reading from Isaiah 2:10-17 refers to a terrible day of the LORD which, given the Gospel reading, we understand to be now, not just later. Psalm 89:1-18 causes us to remember God’s justice is established not in hatred toward us but always in his steadfast love for those he has chosen to be his people. And, continuing in this year’s series in Romans, the assigned Epistle reading in Romans 6:1-11 is a response to those who might query, if God is so merciful, Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? Paul responds, By no means!     

The Collect

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and on earth: Put away from us all hurtful things, and give us those things that are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The LORD Alone Will Be Exalted in That Day (Isaiah 2:10-17)

For the Lord of hosts has a day
against all that is proud and lofty,
against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low;
against all the cedars of Lebanon,
lofty and lifted up;
and against all the oaks of Bashan;
against all the lofty mountains,
and against all the uplifted hills;
against every high tower,
and against every fortified wall;
against all the ships of Tarshish,
and against all the beautiful craft.
And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled,
and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low,
and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. (12-17)

The overall atmosphere of turmoil in this passage complements the Gospel reading for the week in which Jesus says, I did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Mt. 10:34). We need to be careful not to distance ourselves from Isaiah’s oracle because it addresses a time and place and people so foreign to us. The day of the Lord here predicts the era of Jesus in its entirety, from the time of his first coming to that of his second. He is by his death and resurrection already bringing down the haughtiness of people in judgment, beginning with the faithful. So in language similar to Isaiah’s our Lord declares to believers and unbelievers alike: For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Mt. 23:12, Lk. 18:14)

Today, Lord Jesus, by your Spirit through whom there is now no condemnation but correction, I ask you to reveal lingering areas of prideful unwillingness and self-exaltation in me.

Blessed Are the People Who Know the Festal Shout (Psalm 89:1-18)

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
    steadfast love and faithfulness go before you. 
Blessed are the people who know the festal shout,
    who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face, 
who exult in your name all the day
    and in your righteousness are exalted. 
For you are the glory of their strength;
    by your favor our horn is exalted. 
For our shield belongs to the Lord,
    our king to the Holy One of Israel. (14-18)

What precisely is the psalmist’s festal shout which the psalmist claims God’s people are blessed to know? It appears with quotation marks at the beginning of the psalm: For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever; in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.” It is not just of God, or of his awesome power, but of this steadfast love that the psalmist celebrates. What is the Christian’s festal shout? Is it “Jesus is Lord”? Well, yes; but we need to be careful not to leave love out of this statement. Is our heart cry not really more precisely, “Jesus the Lord loves us”? Devotionally, we must come to grips with the fact that too often we relate to Jesus Christ as a God of presence (that he is with us) and power (that he can do all things) but not of love (that he is crazy about us). Friends of God, the light of Jesus’ face by which we walk is the illumination of his devotion to us, so that even when, and especially when, we cannot go another step further we know he will accompany us. You know Jesus–you know he is with you, good! Are you convinced that he loves you steadfastly, more than any human friend ever could, through the passing of all conceivable circumstances? In his fantastic little book “Gentle and Lowly” Dane Ortlund includes the following quote from the Puritan Richard Sibbes concerning the friendship of Jesus: “As his friendship is sweet, so it is constant in all conditions…If other friends fail, as friends may fail, yet this friend will never fail us…It is a comfortable, a fruitful, an eternal friendship.” 

Today, in the Spirit, let this psalm’s declaration of the love and friendship of the One God inspire you to recognize more readily the love of the Father and the Son which is at the foundation of every promise and purpose he has for you. 

We Were Buried (Romans 6:1-11)

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (1-4)

Apparently, Paul’s teaching Where sin increased, grace increased all the more (Rom. 5:20) has  led some detractors to conclude “Well, okay then, sin doesn’t matter anymore.” But Paul responds in this passage that the revelation of God’s grace through Jesus Christ is no mere casual change of philosophy, but a dramatic transfer of authority–not a mere name change on a deed of ownership that makes little difference to the tenant on the land, but a hostile takeover of property. There is a death to sin and a new life in its place. The moral change, while not instantaneous, is inevitable for the person in Christ. Eventually, grace makes continuing in sin unbearable. So Paul will write of his own experience of lingering sin: For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:22-25)

Today, in the Spirit, understand by Paul’s teaching the seriousness of the transaction that has taken place on your behalf through the cross of Christ and make your happy and unconditional surrender.

Not Worthy of Me (Matthew 10:34-42)

[Jesus to his disciples]: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

These not worthy of me statements of Jesus are tricky because they appear in the Gospels in different forms in varying contexts (see for example, Luke 14:26f). Here they are part of Jesus’ instructions to the twelve. Is it possible that here our Lord addresses the “worthiness” not of the apostles themselves but of those they will encounter in their travels as ministers of the gospel? And, if so, what? How should the apostles respond to those making a half-hearted commitment to the Lordship of Jesus? And how are the apostles to judge what kind of commitment others are making? And isn’t “worthiness” based on the work of Christ, not a person’s own commitment? Sometimes, devotionally, we come away with more questions than answers as we wrestle with the meaning of a text. That’s okay: Jesus draws us into a deeper knowledge of him by our prayerful consideration of both that which is affirmed in our hearts and that which causes confusion. 

Today, in the Spirit who never fails to bring truth and wisdom, meet us with an ever clearer image of the face of God, the Father, the Son, and you, through all that is revealed to us of Jesus of Nazareth in the Scriptures. 

Today in the Spirit

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Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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