Most Intimately Ours

15 Pentecost, August 28
First reading and psalm: Jer. 2:4-13 • Ps. 81:1, 10-16
Alternate: Sir. 10:12-18 or Prov. 25:6-7 • Ps. 112 • Heb. 13:1-8, 15-16 • Luke 14:1, 7-14

“‘Now then,’ said Joshua, ‘throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘We will serve the Lord our God and obey him’” (Josh. 24:23-24). There is one true God, and many gods carried under secret cover. Powers and principalities and compulsions over which humans have very little control push and tug and direct toward destruction. What has happened? The gods of this age (which are no gods) have usurped the role of the supreme governor. They accept subjugation to no one and nothing. They rail to rule the world. Let us name a few of these gods: a deep fascination and sentimentality toward violence, graphic and demeaning eroticism, unrestrained greed, racism, sexism, alcoholism, gluttony, deceit, dangerous distraction and inattention. This is not the plan of God.

And yet God has called his people into a free covenantal relationship. A free people are always free to leave; the wide road to destruction remains open. “They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves. … [M]y people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols” (Jer. 2:5, 11). “I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels” (Ps. 81:12). “[T]hey did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done” (Rom. 1:28). God wants to rule. Humans want to rule themselves. Perhaps what God has called debased is simply a human come of age, thinking and growing and experimenting? We stand over divine speech and assess from a distance: Did God say? Who is God to say, to command, to forbid?

These problems are a false opposition. God is wholly other, and yet does not stand against what he has called into being by love and with love and in love. God wants fullness of life, human fulfillment, and flourishing. “When we rebel, we are in rebellion not against what is foreign to us but against that which is most intimately ours, not against what is removed from us but against that which lies at our hands. … He is the hidden abyss; but He is also the hidden home at the beginning and the end of all our journeyings. Disloyalty to Him is disloyalty to ourselves” (Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 46; emphasis mine).

“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20 RSV). No longer I is not the destruction of nature, but nature’s perfection by grace. Putting on Christ, the new being, is to wear a garment fit and apt to one’s true self and vocation.

Some aspects of the new humanity may be sketched with word pictures: gracious, merciful, righteous, generous, a firm and steady heart, special generosity toward the poor, mutual love, hospitality, compassion toward the imprisoned and tortured, holy marriage, free from the love of money, respectful of leaders, doing good, being humble, sharing a banquet with the disenfranchised and neglected (Ps. 112; Heb. 13:1-8, 15-15; Luke 14:13). A constellation of words speaks of our one true love, Christ our Lord, with whom we die to our small and sinful selves to rise as his appointed witness, new and free and generous. This is the day that the Lord has made, the day he is making you your true self in Christ. It fits.

Look It Up: Read Ps. 112. The Psalter is “A Life of Christ.”
Think About It: “I Did It My Way”: A great song, but a terrible plan.

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