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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

On Saving Faith

I will not preach on the first reading but want to share a reflection on it.
[1 Kings 21 Naboth and the Acquisitive Monarchs
The Bible narrative has so much cross references and interconnection to Deuteronomy and other stories in Kings that it would make a delightful study, but I will share only one important insight in the language. The "vineyard" and the "vegetable garden" is connected to  Deuteronomy 11:10, which contrasts the life in Egypt with the blessings in the Promised land. The ancestral land is a sacred gift of God. The King's request is an insult and the verb for taking it is a conquest term.
The problem with governments is that they have power and huge appetites. Individual people cannot stand against the power of a government. God warned Israel that human kings would be self serving. The solution to acquisitive kings has been democracy, but in our own time we have seen that we debate the line between just taxation and robbery. Clearly, the exercise of power to take from another is under God's watchful eye, whether we be kings or citizens, and the just use of this power opens one to judgment.]

In Galatians 2:15-21 we read from Paul's master work on salvation by faith. I often find debates on Faith/Works to be confusing and frustrating. In the narrative from Luke 7:36-8:3 the confusion seems to melt away. It is a more helpful illustration. Jesus simply says, "Go in peace, your faith has saved you." I get this. It makes sense to me. Trusting Jesus for forgiveness, redemption, healing and rescue is to give our self to Him. Lets look at the story again:

A woman who had made a mess of her life comes to Jesus. She is a "public mess," the kind of woman who gets talked about around town. Simon the Pharisee was well respected. His mess was less public. All sin is sin, but some sins are louder than others. Public sinners are socially unacceptable and serve as scapegoats. Other folks project their own guilt upon them.

Behaviors are a fruit of our heart. Jesus says sin a malady of the heart which produces bitter fruit. For public sinners the bitter fruit is compounded by public disapproval and social rejection. Imagine her experience in that small village. Imagine her sadness, self loathing and despair. Imagine the power of Jesus' love setting her free! She wept with relief and clung to Jesus' feet with love because her guilt and shame were taken by Him. She trusted Jesus and gave herself to Him. It was a public act of trust, too. She had no private confession behind closed doors. Everyone saw the shocking public spectacle as she lay on the floor kissing His feet. She was forgiven so much that she loved very much.

Simon had been reluctant to provide hospitality. Simon did not recognize God's gift of salvation in Jesus. Simon had it backwards. He was scrutinizing Jesus! Simon doubted Jesus was a prophet because he thought Jesus did not know she was a failure. Ironically, Jesus was able to read Simon's thoughts and knew his heart. Simon was blinded by his own 'legal' righteousness. Perhaps Simon felt no need for mercy salvation because he thought he was fine. But Jesus says sin is a malady of the heart. Simon loved little because he did not know his own need for mercy and forgiveness. Simon loved little because he confused public respect and a reputation for holiness among people with worthiness before God.

The tragedy of Jesus ministry is that while He offers loving mercy to all, so many fail to seize upon it. Let's be clear, church people are not the villains here. Christians are not always self righteous. Pubic sinners are often reject Jesus. This story simply says. Trust Jesus. Give your whole life to Jesus, sin and all. His gracious loving mercy kindness and forgiveness are available. You are saved by faith. But faith is expressed in gratitude, generosity and love. Leave sin behind and follow Jesus. Don't judge others. Weep and cling to His feet when you need to.

But as the story ends today our story begins. The earliest church is twelve disciples and a bunch of women freed from demons and infirmities. And the women are providing for their ministry!That is us. Misfits who know the sin within their own heart. People who follow Jesus. People set free by Jesus. People who support His ministry--a ministry of proclamation, teaching, healing, exorcising and reconciling others. This is the loving response to all Jesus does. It is our story!


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