Bible Tuesday for Reformation Sunday, 2015
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: 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. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Chapters 30 – 31 of Jeremiah are a prophecy of restoration for Israel and Judah. There are verses where God scolds them for their prostitution of themselves to foreign powers and gods, but most of the verses are like this week’s passage, promises of restoration. In some of the verses leading up to this passage, God refers to Israel as God’s virgin daughter, rebellious but virgin. So within this prophecy, God moves from calling out Israel on her unfaithfulness to restoration. Prostitute to virgin. Rebellious to obedient. Idolaters to God’s faithful people.
Why this passage for Reformation Sunday? Because it deals with the law. In this passage in Jeremiah, the law moves from an imposed outward authority to an inward voice inspiring and guiding the faithful in right relationship to God.
To the leader. Of the Korahites. According to Alamoth. A Song.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
‘Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.’
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
This psalm describes with works of God as the ultimate peacemaker with a very effectives weapons buy back program! The psalmist describes God in this way to strongly emphasize why the Israelites should not fear. Life for the Israelites was just as unstable and life threatening as life is now in the middle east. There were always skirmishes, if not all out battles and wars between Israel/Judah and other nations, or civil war between themselves! For Israelite common folk who were subsistence workers, life was forever teetering between disease, starvation, invasion, and natural disasters. What a statement to claim God a refuge and strength when you are a peasant blown by the winds of human and environmental powers. “Because Yahweh is our refuge and our strength, WE WILL NOT FEAR!”
Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For ‘no human being will be justified in his sight’ by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.
But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.
Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.
Paul is describing what Luther would call the first use of the law. The law is developed to curb/guide unwanted behavior. You wouldn’t make a law against sending birthday cards, because, of course, you want that behavior. Rather you would outlaw hate mail, but you wouldn’t even know you needed to outlaw it until some jerk sent hate mail which caused unreasonable harm. The law, that is, God’s law as dictated in Genesis – Deuteronomy, also shows God’s perfection, as God always keeps the law, and conversely human imperfection, since we do not always keep the law. “Every mouth is silenced” means there is no bragging about righteousness under the law since no human keeps the law perfectly. Since no human keeps the law perfectly, loving God in every thought/word/deed and loving neighbor as we love ourselves, there is no way humans can earn salvation through acts within the law. But God’s perfect love and grace, that is, God’s righteousness, is shown humanity by salvation through faith in Jesus instead of living perfectly under the law.
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?’
Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
The texts for Reformation Sunday are the same every year. In years past, when I have written on this text, I have spent some time on the irony of the Jews whom Jesus is addressing responding to Jesus by stating that they are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. Apparently the whole Exodus story, the seminal event in Israelite history, slipped their minds.
This year let’s focus on Jesus’ words. This text is taken from the gospel of John which opens with a definition and description of the Word. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God…And the word was made flesh and pitched its tent among us. We beheld the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” With that in mind, let us read Jesus’ opening words in this passage. How might we continue in Jesus’ word? Of course a common read of this text is that we must read our Bibles every day, as that is the “word of God.” I would agree that reading the Hebrew and Christian Holy Scriptures is part of continuing in the word. But, according to the gospel of John, there is so much more than that! To be in Jesus’ word, is to be in relationship with Jesus/God/Holy Spirit. It is through this relationship that God woks to become the center and ground of our very being.
But, because we operate through sin, being a disciple of Jesus is just about the last thing we really want to do. Far more relaxing to rest at home with a good book and spend all our money on ourselves and maybe our nice friend and relatives. But being a disciple of Jesus, living just as Jesus lived, dying for ungrateful ignoramuses just as Jesus died is absolutely not what we practice in life. But Jesus, the son, sets us free from ourselves in order that we might be disciples, imperfect, flawed, sort of faithful disciples who are loved by God.