REFLECTIONS ON THE READINGS
FOR SUNDAY, AUGUST 27, 2023
The people of God are returning from Babylonian captivity, only to find their homes ruined and their temple destroyed. God, through Isaiah, gives them a pep talk and hope for the future.
- God calls to mind their long and thorny history. They are “hewn from the same rock” as Abraham and Sarah. Today, we might say “cut from the same mold”. He reminds them of their long relationship with Him, and how he has delivered them and cared for them countless times. He will comfort them (“Zion”). (v. 3)
- God shares his vision for their future. He wants them to be a light to the whole world (“the peoples”). (vv. 4-5)
- Then, is an interesting twist. It is both alarming and comforting. But it helps us to put things into perspective—God’s perspective. (v. 6)
Most of us are not born Jewish, so we are not blood relatives of Abraham and Sarah. We are “the peoples” referred to in verse 5. Romans 8:14 states that “…all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”. We are adopted children, then, because of our faith in Jesus Christ. This vision, therefore, applies to us as well.
The double call to listen/take heed in verse 4 should get our attention. God has a vision, and He wants us to listen. Note that when Isaiah says “people”, he is referring to God’s chosen people. But when he says “peoples” (plural), he is talking about the rest of the world. God’s chosen, wanted to return to the Promised Land, and simply work on not sinning, but in being good. God’s vision for them is altogether different. He wants them to go out and teach others about our God. Show the world justice! Be a light to the nations! I don’t think this is what they thought they were signing up for.
Verse 6 is a stark reminder that everything in this life is temporary. The only thing we can count on is God and the salvation that comes through faith and trust in Him.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The saying goes that nothing is certain except death and taxes. Verse 6 clearly states that the only thing we can rely on is God, and the salvation and the adoption that comes through faith in his Son.
As Disciples of Christ, we are to “be Jesus” to those around us. We are expected to continue His work by teaching, acting justly, and letting the light of Jesus shine through us. How are you doing? Is your light shining?
This reading from Romans starts with the word “therefore”. That tells me that Paul is concluding a logical discussion. It makes we want to look back, and find out what he’s talking about. In this case, he is talking about a) how we have died with Jesus through our baptism (Romans 6:5-11) and b) how God now dwells in us, since we are “in the Spirit” (Romans 8:9-11).
- Therefore, because of “a” and “b” above, we should present ourselves, body and soul, to God. We’re not expected to be like an Old Testament blood sacrifice, but as a dedication to serving Him. We don’t do this to earn “brownie points” of grace with God, but do it out of loving gratitude for what God has first done for us. (v. 1)
- Over the centuries, verse 2 has come to be interpreted as encouragement for some sort of spiritual isolationism. I see this verse differently. Let’s break it down into four parts:
- Do not be conformed of this world
- Be transformed by the renewing of your minds
- So that you may discern what is the will of God
- What is good and acceptable and perfect.
Parts 1 & 2 are the “what” and 3 & 4 the “why”. God does not want us to isolate ourselves from “this world”. He wants us to refocus our minds, and concentrate on discerning the will of God, especially to seek out “what is good and acceptable and perfect”. So, it sounds like it is more like a treasure hunt than a game of hide and seek.
- I’m thinking of a Minnesotan phrase I learned from Garrison Keillor. People in Minnesota say that “he got the big head” when someone thinks too highly of themselves. Paul is telling us Christians not to “get the big head”, but work together as a seamless team. (v. 3)
- When we work together, we are Christ’s body. And since we all have spiritual gifts, they work together to do the work of God. I’ve seen this happen, and it is a beautiful thing. Have you? (vv. 4-8)
After thinking about verse 2 in this way, God seems more interested in my interacting with the world, rather than protecting myself from it.
Our bodies and our being should be offered to the Body of Christ as a loving sacrifice, freely giving of our time and spiritual gifts to serve the Lord. By pooling our spiritual gifts, we can work together to do God’s work in this time and place.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
How often do you attempt to “discern the will of God”? Maybe we should try to do more of this.
What spiritual gifts have you been blessed with? How are you using them to build the Body of Christ?
Jesus’ ministry is in full swing. He’s teaching, preaching, and healing. He’s causing quite a commotion. Jesus now asks his disciples a provocative question—“Who am I?”
If you were in my class a few weeks ago, we were talking about Peter’s “real” name. I mistakenly said that it was Cephas. Today’s gospel lesson will fix that mistake. (Nobody’s perfect!)
- Most of the disciples answer Jesus’ question literally, telling him what other people think he is. Everyone expected Elijah to return before the Messiah’s coming. Jeremiah 31 refers to a new covenant. Maybe some thought Jesus was a new Jeremiah. Jesus’ ministry was similar to John the Baptist’s, in that it focused on spiritual growth more than it did temple worship. Regardless, there was definitely a lot of confusion about who Jesus really was. (vv. 13-14)
- Simon Peter makes a bold move. He tells Jesus who he thinks Jesus is—“The Messiah and Son of the living God”. Jesus is thrilled with his answer. (vv. 15-16)
- Simon was the name given this disciple at birth. When Simon proclaims Jesus the Messiah, Jesus gives him the name “Peter”. Peter is the English version of the Greek name “Petros”. (The Gospels were written in Greek.) In Greek, the word “petra” means “rock”, so we have a little play on words. The gospels were written in Greek, but Jesus didn’t speak Greek, he spoke Aramaic. Jesus said the word—Kepha (or Cephas), which means rock. That’s why sometimes Simon Peter is referred to as Cephas. I like to think that Jesus is calling Simon “Rocky”. (But don’t tell anybody I said that.) (v. 17)
- Jesus proclaims that “on this rock I will build my church”. In fact, Peter eventually goes to Rome, where he heads the Christian church until his martyrdom. Many consider the first pope of the Christian church. One thing is certain—this church would grow and grow. Peter truly was the rock on which the Christian church has been built. (v. 18)
- The next verse is often taken to be the authorization for clergy to hear confession and give absolution of sins. To me, this is more of a statement that what we Christians do on earth is blessed in heaven. (v. 19)
- Now, Jesus tells his disciples “now don’t tell anybody”. If this seems weird to you, read on past today’s reading. Immediately, Jesus starts to teach them how he must suffer and die. They don’t take that very well. In fact, Peter himself rebukes Jesus for this teaching! They have a lot to learn, so it was right for Jesus to tell them to keep a lid on it. (v. 20)
Verse 17 states that Peter did not come to this conclusion on his own, but had some help. Jesus says “…flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” Paul tells us that no one can say that Jesus is Lord, except with the help of the Holy Spirit. So, our very faith is a gift from God!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Today, many people have many ideas about who Jesus was.
Who do you say that he is?