Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Proper 4, Year A

Proper 4, Year A

Genesis 6: 9-22, 7:2-4, 8:14-19. Psalm 46; Or Deuteronomy 31: 1-5, 19-24; Psalm31: 1-5, 19-24;
Romans 1:16-17, 3:22b-28, (29-31); Matthew 7: 21-29
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Most ancient cultures had a flood story. It was used to signify a new beginning, re-birth, second chance or, in the Hebrew scriptures, a "new covenant." Usually it is accomplished through a single person. In this case, Noah.

The psalmist (46) asserts that God "looms" upon the earth even in natural disasters as well as human made crises of war and peace.

Just prior to this excerpt from Deuteronomy, Moses has reviewed the many times the Jews had been unfaithful with God and concludes with this sentiment, " You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you." Now Moses poses a stark choice: obedience/blessing or disobedience/curse.

Using stock phrases from other psalms, the psalmist (31) expresses an urgent plea for God's ear amidst the ugly gossip and even slander whispered by his enemies.

Paul grapples with a red-hot issue for Jews and non-Jews for the followers of Jesus: the role of the Law. He argues that what he calls "the law of faith" "upholds" "the old Law" but supersedes it. The "law of faith" is an acceptance of a "gift" from God by any and all who will receive it. The "gift" is "the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."

Jesus offers a stark contrast between merely professing faith and actually living it.
He provides a vivid illustration. Building the foundation for your home on ground easy to dig in might make the job easier and go faster than building on rock. But when the inevitable rain, wind and floods come, the structure that took more time and effort and is built on the rock of "these words of mine" will still be standing. Matthew, as well as Mark, notes that Jesus' teaching was original, not needing the credibility of citing and explicating past authorities, "as the scribes."

Today's readings bring forward the question: What are you staking your life on? Paul Ricoeur made important contributions to our postmodern understanding of language and hermeneutics. He also occasionally applied his ideas in the realm of religious faith. For example, in a collection of essays entitled Figuring the Sacred (1995) he wrote about what he calls "the economy of the gift." He says that this "gift" includes the "gift of creation, gift of Torah, gift of pardon, gift of hope." Pardon and hope are made uniquely clear in Jesus Christ who always is the "how much more of God." He cites Paul's understanding, especially in his letter to the Romans, of Christ as God's "gift." From an awareness of "gift" flows "the logic of superabundance" which is the "opposite pole to the logic of equivalence of everyday morality." When one accepts her very existence on this earth as gift, then she sees herself as both recipient and as gift-giver to others. Ricoeur writes of "incarnational attestation," which is not an intellectual certitude (we are too aware of our own past mistakes to make that claim) but we are certain-- in the sense that we are willing to stake our lives on --the belief that we live by grace ("superabundance") and we have the capacity, indeed obligation, through our words and deeds to impart grace to others. Thereby, words of faith and our actual words and actions of everyday living become the same. In The Conflict of Interpretations (1974) Ricoeur writes: "The logic of surplus and excess is as much the folly of the Cross as it is the wisdom of the Resurrection. " (p. 410)