September 5, 2017 – Justice vs. Mercy and Life Together- Romans 3:21-25, John 8:5-7

honest

Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves before you? We are speaking in Christ before God. Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building you up. For I fear that when I come, I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish; I fear that there may perhaps be quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again, my God may humble me before you, and that I may have to mourn over many who previously sinned and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and licentiousness that they have practiced. Romans 3:21-25 (NRSV)

(Jesus said, speaking of a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery and who was brought to the scribes and Pharisees for judgment): ”Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:5-7 (NRSV)

It’s not easy trying to do the right thing. There is a fine line between justice and mercy, and a vexing paradox between, “should we dish out what they deserve,” or “should we just forgive it all and move on?”

Part of us wants to seek out vengeance and justice and not be merciful at all. Here in the earthly kingdom we necessarily categorize- and levy sanctions for- individual transgressions based on their impact and the damage they do to society. The purpose of law on earth is to maintain order in society. When there is no consequence for breaking the law, anarchy, rioting, looting and all sort of debauched behavior become the norm.

“Everything goes” is not a good way for humans to live. This is why God gave us the gift of the Law, and the Ten Commandments, to put protective boundaries around our behavior so we don’t hurt ourselves and others.

When forgiveness becomes enabling and we make excuses for our bad behavior as well as for others’, we are not living the life that God has intended for us.

We are called to forgive. We are called to leave judgment to God. But we are also called to encourage each other (in love) to strive to become the people God created us to be. In the earthly kingdom we have an obligation- if we respect the rights and livelihoods of others- to administer justice and to keep people safe from those who would do them harm. Those who commit crimes against others should face the consequences of their crimes.

Martin Luther speaks in depth of the obligation of society to maintain order and safety in his explanations of the fifth, sixth and seventh commandments in the Large Catechism.

Even though we must have order in society to live together, we must always be willing to help, to forgive and to encourage each other.

How do we encourage in love? How do we find that balance between justice and mercy that we need to have as Jesus followers?

July 31, 2017 Supernatural Law- Proverbs 10:1-5, Romans 6:23

consequences

A wise child makes a glad father, but a foolish child is a mother’s grief. Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death. The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked. A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. A child who gathers in summer is prudent, but a child who sleeps in harvest brings shame. – Proverbs 10:1-5 (NRSV)

The book of Proverbs is considered to be a book of wisdom. It has been attributed to King Solomon, as is Ecclesiastes, another wisdom book of the Bible.  Much of what Solomon teaches has to do with cause and effect, or “natural law,” which is the principle that actions have consequences.  Even in science this basic concept is found in Newton’s Third Law, which is, “Every action in nature has an opposite and equal reaction.”

In Scripture the apostle Paul gives us a theological truth that is very similar to Newton’s Third Law:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”- Romans 6:23 (NRSV)

No matter how hard we try, sometimes we are wise children and other times we are foolish children. We can be deceptive and petty and downright evil in our dealings with others.  We can be slackers and miss opportunities to participate in the life of God’s kingdom. There are so many ways we fail God and fall short of His will every day even if we try to do the right things.  God demands perfection, and we just aren’t capable of it.  He gives us His best, and even our best efforts can’t measure up.

On the surface, and here in the natural world, we humans are doomed to the consequences of natural law. Our physical bodies are going to die, and those physical bodies are subject to all of the entropy, apathy and decay that is rampant throughout this world. Both Paul in his letter to the Romans, and Newton in his Third Law underscore inevitable truths about the natural world.  Sin results in death.  Actions have consequences. That is the Law of God, and it is universal throughout His creation.  The Gospel- the good news- is that Jesus took on the consequence of death for us.  Since Jesus conquered death and the grave on our behalf, we are free to live.  Life in Jesus, the good news of the Gospel, is supernatural law.

Solomon taught wise principles, even if he didn’t always adhere to them himself. He gave many instructions to follow to make our lives here on earth more God-pleasing and prosperous. It is always good for us to read the teachings of the Proverbs- and a blessing for us that they are part of Scripture, because they give us good and healthy standards for living.  But apart from the grace of God in Christ we don’t stand a chance of living up to those standards.

Wisdom says we need to to run to Jesus, to go to the foot of the Cross and ask for His forgiveness and mercy and grace. We have the confidence in Him that we shouldn’t try to have in ourselves alone. His supernatural law transcends the inevitabilities of the natural law of this world.

How can we find ways to run to the foot of the Cross and find help in Christ when we are overwhelmed?

June 7, 2017 Courage Has Its Rewards, and Selfishness Has Its Consequences – 1 Samuel 25:35-42

Abigail

Then David received from her hand what she had brought him; he said to her, “Go up to your house in peace; see, I have heeded your voice, and I have granted your petition.”

Abigail came to Nabal; he was holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk; so she told him nothing at all until the morning light.  In the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him; he became like a stone.  About ten days later the Lord struck Nabal, and he died.

When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the Lord who has judged the case of Nabal’s insult to me, and has kept back his servant from evil; the Lord has returned the evildoing of Nabal upon his own head.” Then David sent and wooed Abigail, to make her his wife.  When David’s servants came to Abigail at Carmel, they said to her, “David has sent us to you to take you to him as his wife.” She rose and bowed down, with her face to the ground, and said, “Your servant is a slave to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” Abigail got up hurriedly and rode away on a donkey; her five maids attended her. She went after the messengers of David and became his wife. 1 Samuel 25:35-42 (NRSV)

On one level this narrative is a cautionary tale regarding natural law, or of “what goes around comes around.” It is human nature to find it rewarding to see someone reap the natural consequences of his or her actions (or of his or her failure to act.)  It is a bit more humbling to realize that as much as we would want to always be an Abigail or a David in this story, we are also Nabals.  Save by the grace of God, we could all be considered selfish, short-sighted and possibly even drunken fools, just as deserving to be struck down as Nabal was.

There is peace to be found in having the courage to do the right thing.  Not only did Abigail avert the sure wrath of David and his men by making provision for them, but she also got God’s attention.  God responded to her dilemma and rewarded her faithfulness by improving her situation.  As cruel as it may sound, Abigail and her household likely had great peace when Nabal dropped dead.  No more drunken ravings.  No more offending all the neighbors and putting up with loud parties in the middle of the night and slogging through the inevitable clean up in the morning.  No more having to cover for someone too drunk to think rationally.  Those who have lived with alcoholics or those addicted to other drugs know what it is to always be walking on eggshells, not knowing what will trigger the next drunken, destructive rage.  Living with someone who is not in their right mind for whatever reason is a stressful and soul killing way to live.

It is true that the reward for being courageous is not always readily apparent, and the consequences for foolishness are not always so swift or obvious. Sometimes we do not see our reward while we live on this earth, even though in Christ we can be confident that He is storing our treasures in heaven.  We live under God’s grace, and He knows that we fail and don’t always succeed at doing the right thing.  He gives us many chances to repent (to turn around and go the opposite direction) when we are headed the wrong way.  If we were left to the harsh reality of natural law apart from the grace of God, none of us would be able to stand on our own merit.

The wisdom to be found here is in listening to the voice of God, and in appreciating (and extending) the grace and mercy of God. Do we heed the warnings of others like David did when Abigail approached him and apologized for her husband’s surliness and inhospitality?  Do we extend grace even in situations in which it would be justifiable to lash out?