Deuteronomy 11, 18 and 26-28
- The reading from Moses contains two separate sections: first, an instruction, second a warning. I will change my tone as I switch from one to the other.
- Take these words of mine into your heart and soul. I notice how God invites us to share in something divine, making our lives over in
the Creator’s image. Of course, I have to read it with such conviction
that my listeners will be moved to do it. The “Way of the Just” we
sing in Psalm 1 can be our response.
- Bind them on your wrist and let them be a pendant. We wear wrist watches, hats, even tattoos, so outward signs are not unusual. I think of remembering, which comes from those
things on which we reflect, or on which we pray.
- Now for the warning. I
set before you here – this day – a blessing and a curse. If ever
I avoid mundane tones in my reading, it must be now. The pauses should remind
everyone that “this day” is the eternal “today” that we dedicate to our acceptance of God’s
rule over our lives. I do not speak with a threatening voice, but to tell the
congregation that our choices have real consequences.
- Obeying (or not
obeying) the commandments of the Lord, your God. The choice involves fidelity to a covenant, a people keeping their promises to “their God.” Our zeal for the Law springs from our love of God who gave us the Law.
- Moses is presented as speaking to all the people, not to individuals.
By my gaze upon the entire congregation I will project that same universal calling.
- And the other alternative?
To follow other gods whom you have not known. They are strangers, thus they know not and care not a whit about their votaries and their fates.
- Climax: A blessing for
- Message for our assembly: The choice between fullness of life
and emptiness is not really a choice at all!
- I will challenge myself: To avoid reading in too dramatic a tone. If I understand what covenant means, and if I appreciate personally the consequences
of falling, I will know what to tell my listeners.
Romans 3, 21-25 and 28
- Now the righteousness (that is born) of God has been manifested. I note the importance of accenting the
correct words. The apostle does not mean that God is righteous, but that God
makes us righteous. I am treading historic paths, those followed also by Luther
and other Protestant reformers.
- Manifested apart from the law… through faith in Jesus Christ. There is some repetition throughout
the passage, and I will take advantage of it. The original audience in Rome,
made up of Jews and Gentiles, were being told how the apostle proclaimed the gospel vis-à-vis the Law of Moses. Even though we are all Gentiles, like Luther we can benefit from his presentation of righteousness.
- There is no distinction; all have sinned. By our own efforts, unaided, we get nowhere. I emphasize “all”
as my gaze sweeps over everyone from front to rear pews. I can even include myself
in the “all” by using a simple gesture.
- Justified freely – by his grace – through the redemption
in Christ Jesus. For many listeners in Rome, it was a matter of their contemporary,
a worker of wonders, a supreme teacher with unparalleled authority, who died but yet lives in God. I will take advantage of the pauses to make it come alive for our time.
I want to rekindle in my listeners today, who know it chiefly as a catechism formula, a declaration about this man
Jesus and the meaning of his gift to us.
- God set him forth as an expiation – through faith –
by his own blood. The church has mercifully omitted the convoluted phrases
that follow, but this one that remains offers me enough challenge. I have to
remember to sustain the tension in this letter between the decisive action of God and our response. “Expiation” is not efficacious for everyone, but upon those who answer in “faith.” In my hymn about the great themes in Romans
I have written lyrics to that effect: “You stretch a saving hand – I only need to reach in faith.”
- Climax: A person is justified by faith.
- The message for our assembly: Do we recognize that these words are central to our faith, that they form the ground
of our community, and trump other practices and devotions? Indeed, “Let
us give thanks to the Lord.”
- I will challenge myself: To pick my way through the complexity, preserving the tension between God’s gift of
grace and our freely willed response.
Matthew 7, 21-27
- Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”... Well, that sounds like a contradiction of all I just heard! But is it?
- I remember that this evangelist presented Jesus as the new Moses, and offered a slightly different take on our life
in grace than the apostle did.
- This passage concludes the Sermon on the Mount. It refers to everything that Jesus said about fulfilling the Law and excelling in righteousness. It refers especially to the imitation of God’s perfection and of Christ’s example. It is all part of that response of faith we are called to make.
- There are many action words: Do the will, act on my words, build on rock.
- Listen to the violent storm and remind my listeners of those they have experienced: the rain fell, the floods came and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
I’ll rehearse so that I do not speak of luncheons but of windstorms.
- Make sure they remember the decisive tone of Christ: I never knew you. I must say it so that it will make all the difference to them.
- Make sure they remember the contrast between the two houses. One did not collapse. The other collapsed
and was completely ruined. I can let my disaster news voice loose on this
- Central theme: Listen to these words of mine and act on them.
- Message for our assembly: In the kingdom of God, actions speak louder.
- I will challenge myself: To emphasize the action words, especially the force of the elements that cannot break down
the abode of the just one.
From Word to Eucharist: We
follow the Lord through easy and hard times, not by reflexive instinct but out of hope in God’s promises. May we always accompany each other to the Eucharistic table.