Wednesday, September 4, 2013
But the promises, life eternal, forgiveness and suffering still stand
Several of my morning devotional readings came together with an article I found on the Layman. The article is also linked at CHURCHandWORLD.com. The readings are Philippians 1:19-30; Hosea 2 and Psalm 38. The article was from the Christian News, “Bakery Under Investigation for Declining to make Lesbian 'Wedding' Cake moves Due to Harassment.” However, the thoughts I have about the texts cover much more than the harassment the Kleins who operate the 'Sweet Cakes by Melissa' are enduring for the sake of their faith.* It is about the Church, in particular the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as well as other mainline denominations and God's compassion, love and judgment.
The faithful in the United States are experiencing anxious times. We are uncertain about how the laws regarding discrimination versus religious freedom will play out. Certainly the future and freedom are threatened. And to make matters worse denominational faithlessness places denominational church members in a precarious position. They stand with their backs against two walls: a secular state and a compromising religious institution. So from the biblical texts God's love, compassion and his judgment.
Paul is writing about being in prison and the possibility of his death. But he insists that he will continue on for the sake of the believers that they may progress in their faith and have joy. And then Paul gives several admonitions and promises. The Christians must live their lives in a manner that is “worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” They are here called to live a righteous life while bearing the righteousness of Jesus.
The Christians are promised that they will suffer, “For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake not only to believe in him, but to suffer for his sake.” (29a) But they are not to be alarmed. Their peace will be a sign for their enemies as well as themselves. The Christians will experience salvation, the opponents destruction. This is hard language but it is an eschatological promise. The reality of the ultimate future is not uncertainty but certainty. There is compassion but finally, in the end, there is judgment as well as salvation.
The Christians at Philippi were facing non-Christian opponents, those who had no desire to be called Christian. But in Hosea we see the people of God as the problem. They are the opponents, and this because they are completely compromised by false religion which included immorality. Israel is likened to a wife who believes her blessings, bread, water, wool, flax, oil and drink are gifts from lovers different from her husband. She is totally ignorant of the true source of her life. Israel becomes intimately involved with the Baals of the surrounding culture.
God's solution is to hedge her in; he places her in a position where she can only return to him. He takes away his gifts and even allows her lovers to see her lewdness so that they will also reject her. (This has too often happened to the church.) One could say that God takes away what his people believe to be their rights so that they might find real satisfaction in the Lord who is their true redeemer. God speaks to his people:
“I will betroth you to me forever; yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion, and I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord. (19,21)
God judges his church in order to bring repentance and bind her to himself. God will judge his Church; the Scripture is very clear, but God will have compassion in the midst of repentance.
This is the prayer of the sinner; the confession of repentance and acknowledgment that we, I, suffer from my own sin. “for your sorrows have sunk deep into me, and your hand has pressed down on me. There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin.” Over and over the affects and pains of sin are stated.
But this is a paradox. In the midst of being a sinner the confessor acknowledges that there are enemies who hate them for following good. “For I said, 'May they not rejoice over me, who, when my foot slips, would magnify themselves against me. For I am ready to fall, and my sorrow is continually before me. For I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sin. But my enemies are vigorous and strong … They oppose me because I follow what is good.”
The faithful Christian like the psalmist, acknowledging that they are sinners and confessing will find their sinfulness thrown in their face by those who are also sinners but without repentance. And the answer is simply this. Continue in confession and faith in the God who does not forsake. “Do not forsake me, O Lord; O my God, do not be far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation.”
The Kleins have moved from their bakery, painted in pink with crosses, to their home for safety's sake. Maybe they will be charged with discrimination by the state of Oregon. Maybe not. But the promises, life eternal, forgiveness and suffering still stand.
*Melissa and Aaron Klein would not participate in a same sex wedding by baking a cake and have discrimination charges filed against them.
Picture by Penny Juncker