Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Story of OUR Redemption

My reflection on the Daily Texts for Saturday, July 22:

We have all become like one who is unclean and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. - Isaiah 64:6

The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly. - Luke 22:61-62

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 88:6-12; Isaiah 43:22-44:23; Philippians 3:1-11

I've been saving some notes from last week that I haven't written up until now. The Daily Texts scriptures for July 21 and 22 have stayed with me as examples of how simple and powerful the message of faith in God can be.

My last post was about the scriptures for the 21st, giving a wide-angle, cosmic view of God's redemption in Christ, for Israel and for all nations. It struck me how the very next day gave an equally simple and powerful set of scriptures bringing that story of redemption down to a very intimate, personal level.

Peter's denial of Jesus might be the most famous example of someone who had a promising spiritual life, then blew it by showing himself to be full of fear and weak in faith. Isaiah 64 addresses the shallowness of our spiritual efforts - the highest standard of purity we can reach on our own will soon be shown to be worthless. In Philippians 3, Paul also confesses that his previous self-righteous state has turned out to be counted as nothing. (The word "rubbish" in 3:8 is much too polite a word; Paul is literally saying that in comparison with knowing God's grace in Christ, he regards everything that came before as "sewage" or "dung" or "human waste" - you can supply your own word.) Psalm 88 is known as the darkest of all the psalms, in which the writer is aware of sin and mortality and pain and judgment, and no note of hope is given.

Yet Jesus forgave Peter, prayed for him, and after the resurrection called him again to care for Jesus' flock. Paul found that stripping away the life he was most proud of actually led him to the freedom to "put on Christ" and live a new life by God's power, not his own. Psalm 88 is not the last word of the book of Psalms, and is vastly outnumbered by the psalms that do offer hope and praise, even in times of great need and personal collapse. In Isaiah 43-44, the prophet testifies to God's love and faithfulness despite human failure, and God's willingness to save and transform:
I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins ... For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring. They shall spring up like a green tamarisk, like willows by flowing streams ... Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you, you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.
More than just a lovely theory or a panoramic view we could see from far away, this word of God becomes real for each of us, in a very intimate and personal way. The story of redemption comes to me at times of MY life where I realize my own faults and limitations and brokenness, and it becomes the story of MY redemption. The same for you, and for all of us.

As I wrote in the last post, "There is no place, no condition so far gone that it can't be reached, redeemed, and renewed in Christ." That's true in a grand, global sense - and it's also true at the finest level of detail, in your life and in mine.

Thank you, God, for love this particular, for grace and mercy and forgiveness this close to my own heart. Touch my life, and the lives of others through me and your whole church, that everyone might live through you, know your protection, and have peace with you and one another.

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