Psalm 56:9-13; Leviticus 24:10-25:17; Mark 8:1-13

Originally published 5/1/2014. Revised and updated 5/1/2018.

Psalm 56:10-14  The latter half of this psalm is David’s version of “Blessed Assurance,” and is better sung than analyzed.  There is David’s assurance that God will be true to His word; “This I know, that God is for me.”  And although it’s not here in the psalm, the only possible response to that line must be, “Then, who can be against me?”

And as in the first stanza, we have what we might call the “Grand Triumvirate:” praise, trust and the banishment of fear.  The motto found on our coins, “In God we trust” is completed here at verse 12a: “I shall not fear.”  trust drives out fear completely.

And with fear banished, “What can man do to me?” (12b)

With fear banished and trust assured, David renews his vows to be faithful to God:
I take upon me, O God, my vows to You.
I shall pay thanksgiving offerings to You. (13)

I think that worship is also a place where we renew our vows to God each week. Sincere prayer each day is also renewal. In this renewal we can rejoice that God has rescued us from certain disaster. And if we needed an operating definition of what salvation is all about, it is right here in the closing verse of this psalm:

For You saved me from death,
yes, my foot from slipping,
to walk in God’s presence
in the light of life.

For us, that is indeed the salvific power of Jesus Christ.

Leviticus 23:23-24:9  When we think about the covenant between God and Israel, we (at least I) do not tend to think of celebrations and commemorations.  Yet, here God sets out at least three distinct periods of setting aside daily work and commemorating special events, chief among them, the Day of Atonement.  These are not casual holidays taken on a whim, but are commands from God, to be observed as “an everlasting statute for your generations.” (23:41) These celebrations are as much a part of the law as the Decalogue.

This is why one of the great gifts of the Lutheran church to me personally has been the liturgical calendar.  It is an ongoing reminder of Jesus’ transforming work through each year as we commemorate what he has done for us from birth to death to Resurrection to Ascension to Pentecost.  It’s clear from these passages in Leviticus that God means for us to turn from our daily tasks, stop and remember—and reflect.  Maybe we don’t dwell in huts for seven days (23:42) or offer food at an altar, but the subtext here is that pausing and reflecting on what God—and for us, Jesus—has done is a key element in our relationship with Him.

The next chapter opens with the command to Moses for “the people of Israel to bring you pure oil of beaten olives for the lamp, that a light may be kept burning regularly.” (24:2) Light has been the symbol of live and an active relationship with God since those days in the desert. For us, of course, Jesus is the light of the world, and in most liturgical churches, there is an oil lamp or a candle that burns continuously—a reflection of God’s command to Moses: “it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.” (24:3)

Mark 7:24-37  As I recall noting when we read this story in Matthew that with the exception of the woman at the well in John, Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman is perhaps my favorite of all the people he meets and talks with. Operating at several levels, it is perhaps Jesus’ clearest statement that he came not just for Jews, but for the Gentiles and for the entire world. More than that, though, I think it tells us that when we have faith in who he is and what he can do, we can approach Jesus with boldness.

The woman had a real world need: a demon-possessed daughter that she believed  Jesus could heal. She had a solid faith that Jesus would do for her what she had heard he had done for many others. And she is smart: she understands Jesus’ metaphor of the children and dogs, and unlike so many of us who only come up with the perfect reply after the moment passes, she pushes back with the perfect reply: “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (28) While the Gentiles may be only dogs foraging for crumbs under the Jewish table, Jesus makes it clear is what has led to her daughter’s healing, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” (30)  Of course it is also Mark’s clear message that we Gentiles can also partake of Jesus’ grace and healing. And we can do so boldly. It was this woman’s boldness and courage that Jesus respected. But it is boldness and courage in the context of her deep faith that Jesus meets her need.

This is the same boldness with which David prays in so many psalms. But it is never confrontational boldness; it is always grounded in deep respect, reciprocated love, and a deep faith that Jesus will actually do what we’re asking him to do. We do not approach our Lord in weakness, but in faith in who he is and therefore in boldness of who we are: the beloved children of God.

 

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