Monday, November 30, 2009

Together Under God

The Gospel for the next two Sundays tell Luke's account of the ministry of John the Baptist (Luke 3:1-20).  The last two verses aren't actually included in the assigned reading. Those verses are:
Herod the tetrarch*, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
Eventually John the Baptist was killed.  He was executed by Herod. Why?  Because Herod just didn't like the things John was saying.  For one thing, John accused Herod of a personal sin--something connected with Herod's sexual and family life. He and his sister-in-law Herodias had divorced their spouses and married each other.

I'm sure Herod was offended in other ways too.  As a wealthy and powerful man, Herod would feel threatened by many other things John said--for example "Whoever has two coats must share with him who has none" (Luke 3:11).

That's what God's Word does, when we let it.  It offends us.  Look at Jesus' teaching in Luke 6:17-49. If that doesn't offend you either you're very poor--because the poor come out very well in Jesus' economy--or you're just not paying attention.  If you do pay attention, taking Jesus and John seriously, it will cost you a lot.

On Sunday night we'll be getting together to listen to each other and to vote on The Common Confession. Most of the attention has been on point 6 about marriage and family. That point was included because the Bible's teaching about this particular area of life has been seriously challenged in our denomination.  But that does not mean that those of us who have more-or-less intact families--with a father and mother who have remained faithful to each other--the specific inclusion of point 6 does not excuse us from our other responsibilities under God's law.

The Common Confession lifts up all of scripture as "the final authority for us in all matters of our faith and life." The strong teachings of the prophets** come at us from both left and right.  That's one reason that Hebrews 4:12-13 says God's Word is a TWO-EDGED Sword.  Yes--God's Word does limit God's blessing on sexual activity to "the biblical boundaries of a faithful marriage between one man and one woman."  But every middle class American comes under God's wrath as we refuse to share our goods freely and do not love our enemies.

Sin is sin no matter what kind it is. Sin is damnable and horrific whether it is personal or social, whether it's related to our family relationships or self-centered political goals.  One thing I've always appreciated about the Roman Catholic Church is that they seem to put equal emphasis on sins related to sexuality and sins related to other issues like war and poverty and environmental exploitation.  The ELCA has, in my opinion, become too "liberal" in the areas of sexual ethics, but, on the other hand, many of its social agendas seem well founded on scriptural norms.

Of course, that's too uncomfortable for us, so, unless we know the amazing love of Jesus, who died for the adulterer and people like me who have way more than two coats, we will ignore the part of God's law that makes us most uncomfortable. We will hate and discriminate against certain kinds of people or else we will accept every kind of behavior--at least those behaviors we're most closely connected to. Unless we know the amazing love of Jesus, who died for sinners of all kinds, we will not be able to make a community of people, depending on God's grace alone, who are together under God. 

But when we do know Jesus' love we can let the Word of God come at us with full force from both sides, from right and from left. It will convict us and push us and bring us to our knees, alongside every other sinner, and we, like Jesus, will not be ashamed to call all struggling and suffering people our brothers and sisters (See Hebrews 2:10-18), each of us equally in need of the grace and mercy of God.

Knowing that Word from both sides will bring us together under God--under God's law, yes, that will continue to convict us and push us to be more and more like Jesus--but especially under God's grace--and his amazing love--for you and for every other sinner here--and all around this big world.
* an ancient Roman term for "ruler of a quarter"
** "There is a tendency in a number of languages to translate προφήτης only in the sense of ‘one who foretells the future,’ but foretelling the future was only a relatively minor aspect of the prophet’s function, though gradually it became more important. Patristic authors defined the function of a prophet mainly in terms of foretelling the future. In New Testament times, however, the focus was upon the inspired utterance proclaimed on behalf of and on the authority of God. Accordingly, in a number of languages it is more appropriate to translate προφήτης as ‘one who speaks for God.’ (from The Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains, edited by Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida,1989).

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