Friday, March 09, 2018

Lent 4B

Ephesians 2:1-10

1You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ –by grace you have been saved– 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

We're still in the slowed down forty days and forty nights of Lent that emphasizes repentance, walking with Jesus to the cross and to Easter, as we spring clean every aspect of our lives. Decluttering! Lent is an old word for the season of spring; the music tempo lento means slow. The fourth Sunday in Lent takes a short break from the overall penitential feeling as the liturgical colors change from purple to rose or a deep pink. Sundays in Lent all have designations based on the traditional introits or entrance prayers of the liturgy; Lent 4 is Laetare or "rejoice," from Rejoice, O Jerusalem."

On Lent 1 we considered God's covenant with Noah; for Lent 2, God's covenant with Abram/Abraham. Last week on Lent 3, we reflected on the Ten Commandments or Sinai Covenant God gave us through Moses.

The second reading for today is from the epistle to the Church at Ephesus. Despite the header that denotes the Apostle Paul as author, he almost definitely didn't write Ephesians. Back in those days, attributing your writing to a teacher or friend or someone else you admired was commonplace and not considered wrong in the least; in fact, it complimented the person you designated as author. Although the theology of Ephesians generally piggybacks on Paul's undisputed letters, some of the vocabulary and sentence structure is quite un-Pauline. However, in alignment with the epistles to the churches at Rome, Philippi, Galatia, etc. the insistence on our already being redeemed by God's grace at no cost to us makes Ephesians very Pauline and extremely Reformation central.

In the wake of considering specific biblical covenants on Lent 1, 2, and 3, today's Ephesians passage logically develops from God freely coming together in grace-filled covenant or agreement with humanity and with all creation.

I hadn't done any serious research on the Ephesus situation, mentioned I only knew the city was a commercial crossroads (like literally every prominent city then and now) and had a temple to the goddess Diana; Barbara filled in by telling us Diana was the main deity out of thousands! We went online and discovered Ephesus is part of present-day Turkey.

The Greek text starts out by acknowledging we were dead. Throughout this selection, "dead" is nekros, where we get words like necrology, necromancer, necrologist. All the explanations related to "in which you once lived" "once lived among them" aren't zoë or life (the name Zoë means life); they're peripatetic, going about our daily walk, our routine, our generic lifestyles. However, in 2:5 in a word that contains the zoë / life root, God makes us alive, quickens us (you may know the version of the Apostles Creed that talks about "the quick and the dead" rather than "the living and the dead"?); in 2:6 God resurrects us and seats us together with Jesus Christ.

In this entire passage from Ephesians, all the words about God's activity are grace and gift. With its emphasis on salvation and the Savior as gifts of grace, this text is strongly Reformation Central, yet it concludes by reminding us God has created us to do good works that are the result of his graciously choosing us and saving us. God even already prepared those good works that help transform the world to be our way of life, our daily walking about – peripatetic – routine, our lifestyle. Theologian of grace Martin Luther insisted he loved good works so much he'd like to be called the Doctor of Good Works!

Monday, March 05, 2018

Lent 3B

Exodus 20:1-5, 7-17

1Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me.
4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; ...

7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13You shall not murder.
14You shall not commit adultery.
15You shall not steal.
16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

We're continuing in Lent as the days lengthen into Spring. Time to slow down to the music tempo Lento that means slow, and in many cases as Sara suggested, to ultra-slow Lentissimo. Lent features the liturgical color purple that denotes repentance; besides slowly becoming aware of our failing to miss the mark and slowly resolving to better obedience, better service to others, during Lent we remain very conscious of living in grace, of receiving life as gift.

Covenant

For the third Sunday in but not of Lent the lectionary brings us another covenant (on Lent 1 and Lent 2 we discussed the readings from Mark's gospel).

Lent 1: Genesis 9:8-17 – God's covenant with Noah

Lent 2: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 – God's covenant with Abram / Abraham

Lent 3: Exodus 20:1-5, 7-17 – Sinai covenant, also known as The Ten Commandments

Covenant comes from co and venire – a coming together agreement. The bible is full of covenants between God and creation, though just how many is up for dispute. All biblical covenants are covenants of grace; in many ways creation itself is a covenant. Although we know about the triune interrelationship of the Trinity / Godhead, God has such passion for giving, for relationship, for grace, creation is like James Weldon Johnson's poem that begins, "And God stepped out on space, and he looked around and said: 'I'm lonely—I'll make me a world.'"

As Christians we live baptized. Baptism is a sacrament that's also a covenant between God and the person being baptized and the assembly that agrees – or covenants – to support the newly baptized in their walk by faith. Christian marriage is a covenant.

Let's look at the historical setting of the Sinai Covenant / commandments. We're in the book of Exodus, which means "departure," in this case departing from slavery in imperial Egypt. After a series of devastating plagues that apparently came from the god of the Israelites (there needs to be cause and effect, correct?)...

Chronology

Exodus 12: the Egyptian Pharaoh finally tells Moses, "Take all your people and get out of here right now."
Exodus 13: celebrating Passover; God leads the people by going before them in a cloud by day, fire by night.
Exodus 14: Israelites cross the Red Sea on dry ground.
Exodus 15: Song of Moses; Song and dance of Miriam
They arrive in the Desert of Shur. A fresh tree branch sweetens the bitter waters at Marah – nature healing nature.
Then to Elim with its 12 springs and 70 palms.
Exodus 16: another desert / wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Sinai.
Bread from heaven, quails from the sky. Manna = "what is it!" probably coriander/cilantro seeds
Sabbath-keeping
Israel receives sustaining food as gift; then they know God is Lord.
Exodus 17: another desert – Rephidim. God provides water from the rock for the thirsty people, "that the people may drink."
Exodus 18: choosing elders / judges to help Moses
Exodus 19: three months out of Egypt, Israel reaches the Sinai desert in the shadow of Mount Sinai.

Sabbath-keeping is a specific commandment, yet the Israelites already had been observing Sabbath during the three weeks before God formally gave them the Ten Commandments via Moses.

Immediate Setting for the Ten Commandments

Exodus 19: Moses consults with God, who tells the Israelites if they obey, they will be God's treasured possession (Hebrew segullah), a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. The baptismal hymn in 1 Peter 2:9 parallels this and describes us as a chosen generation, royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people. The people respond with, "We will do all the words the Lord has spoken." {Also in Exodus 24:3)

The desert became a place of trusting God for everything related to life. In the desert you can't plan or plant, administer or stockpile anything. You only can receive life as gift—similar to when we find ourselves in life's metaphorical or actual deserts.

Sinai Covenant / Ten Commandments / Exodus 20

God's ongoing presence and actions – maybe especially during the three weeks before they reached Sinai – set up Israel to trust God's supply, to convince them this was a God worthy of obedience, so the commandments became a gift of grace.

During Luke's lectionary year, we discussed neighborology, the word about the neighbor, about the other. We asked "And who is my neighbor" and considered Jesus' replying with the story of the Good Samaritan that's unique to Luke's gospel. This decalogue or set of ten commands is about living together in community, about receiving and giving life as gift, about considering and responding to the needs of our neighbor, the needs of the other.

We've observed that almost every time the Apostle Paul refers to law, he means ceremonial, ritual, sacrificial law and definitely not the commandments. However, when magisterial Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin talked about the uses of the law, they meant the commandments. Their third use of the law is about the neighbor, about the other, about neighborology. The Ten Commandments literally are the working papers for life in covenantal community.

Exodus' commandments/ Sinai Covenant text begins by telling us "God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt..." therefore. This is a God worthy of trust, worth obeying.

Elsewhere in scripture we hear about ordinances, statutes, laws, counsels, ways, testimonies, precepts, commandments, ways, paths, chart, guide, promises, commands, judgments, ordinances, decrees. Pastor Eugene Peterson's Message version refers to course, map, road, road signs, directions, instructions, rules, revelations. You probably can find more words in other translations and versions.

God spoke the commandments after Israel had enough experience with God's gracious provision to trust God, but before they reached the Promised Land where they'd begin a settled life together on the land, where they'd need to trust God and each other. In his Small and Large Catechisms, Martin Luther presents the commandments as the gifts of grace they are by telling us how not to break the commandments (what does each commandment forbid?) and how to keep the commandments (what does each commandments encourage?); the Shorter and Larger Westminster Catechisms do the same. So it's not only a matter of not breaking the commandments; it's even more about keeping the commandments.