Psalm 37:16–22; Nehemiah 9:1–10:27; Romans 5:12–6:4

Psalm 37:16-22: This section of the psalm deals with economic justice and, as usual contrasts the wicked against the poor and just. In God’s eyes, the just are always better off regardless of their circumstances: “Better a little for the just/ than wicked men’s great profusion.” (16) The reason is simple: “the Lord sustains the just.” (17).

But better than merely being sustained, we enjoy God’s love for eternity: “The Lord embraces the fate of the blameless,/ and their estate shall be forever.” (18) Jesus surely had this psalm in mind when he told the parable of Dives and Lazarus, the poor man and the rich man: “For the wicked shall perish.” (20a)

In God’s economy, the wicked are ephemeral: “Like the meadow’s green—gone, in smoke, gone.” (20b)

These verses also stand behind the Sermon on the Mount as we hear beatitude echo the psalm: “For those He blesses inherit the earth.” (22) When we think about it, this psalm would have been familiar to Jesus’ hearers. He did not have to tell them “those he curses are cut off” (22) because the minds of his listeners would have filled in that verse themselves.

Nehemiah 9:1-10:27: The work of restoring the walls of Jerusalem is completed and everyone is gathered for a dedicatory day of confession, prayer and to make a covenant that henceforth Israel will dedicate itself to God.

Nehemiah retraces Israel’s story, reminding us again that know where we came from is crucial and that to lose our story is to lose our identity.

As Nehemiah prays, he reminds all present that “our ancestors acted presumptuously and stiffened their necks and did not obey your commandments;” (16) God, in contrast, is “ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and you did not forsake them.” (17).

Israel’s story is our story. We are just as stiff-necked and easily forget that God wants desperately to have a loving relationship with us.

Again and again, Nehemiah recounts the theme of today’s psalm: how God sustained them, but they constantly turned away in wickedness. Even to the point of completely rejecting God: “ they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their backs and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies.” (9:26) And they deserved their punishment. They would cry out to God for mercy and “according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hands of their enemies.” (27) But again, they sinned and again, “many times you rescued them according to your mercies.” (28).

This confession reminds us of how we constantly fall into sin and how God is ever faithful, ever merciful, rescuing us again and again. It is always our pride, which Nehemiah characterizes as “stubborn shoulder and [they] stiffened their neck and would not obey.” (29)

But, Nehemiah promises, this time will be different because the leaders of the restored nation sign a covenant to follow God, because “we are in great distress.” (37) And in keeping with the detail that characterizes the histories, Ezra and Nehemiah, their names are listed in Chapter 10: a reminder to all those men’s descendants that they have made a covenant with God. Just as our baptismal certificates are a reminder to us of our even better covenant with God through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 5:12–6:4: Paul traces it all back to Adam. Sin comes into the world and therefore, death, and harking back to his earlier assertion, “death spread to all because all have sinned.” (5:12) and sin predates the law.

But grace is larger than death due to sin: “many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ,” (5:15). Jesus is the new Adam, or perhaps, the “restorative Adam,” as Paul asserts, “just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” (5:18)

Interestingly, as a once devout Jew, Paul now asserts that the Law essentially got in the way. But that was fine because it led in turn to something even greater, “But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,” (5:20)

But, Paul tells us, we need to be careful about sin leading to grace. That is no excuse to say, “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” (6:1) Sin is part of our old selves. Our old selves have “been buried with him by baptism into death,” (6:4).

This is the essence of the New Covenant: we don’t just get forgiven; we have an entirely new life in Jesus Christ. In this new life, thinking that we can just keep on sinning is utterly illogical, when “we too might walk in newness of life.” (6:4)

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