Legalism and Fidelity   1 comment

Abraham and Lot Separate

Above:  Abraham and Lot Separate

Image in the Public Domain

Legalism and Fidelity

FEBRUARY 18 and 19, 2016

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The Collect:

God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross

you promise everlasting life to the world.

Gather all peoples into your arms, and shelter us with your mercy,

that we may rejoice in the life we share in your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 27

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 13:1-7, 14-18 (Thursday)

Genesis 14:17-24 (Friday)

Psalm 27 (Both Days)

Philippians 3:2-12 (Thursday)

Philippians 3:17-20 (Friday)

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The LORD is my light and my salvation;

whom then shall I fear?

the LORD is the strength of my life;

of whom then shall I be afraid?

–Psalm 27:1, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Sometimes the portrayal of Abram/Abraham in the Bible puzzles me.  In Hebrews 10:8-22 the patriarch is a pillar of fidelity to God.  Yet he hedges his bets and lies in Genesis 12, and the only people who suffer are the Pharaoh of Egypt and members of the royal household.  Abram exiles his firstborn son, Ishmael, in Genesis 21:8-21.  The patriarch intercedes on behalf of strangers in Genesis 19 yet not for his second son, Isaac, three chapters later.  Abram, who is wealthy, refuses even to appear to have enriched himself by means of the King of Sodom in Genesis 14.  In so doing the patriarch, who has just paid a tithe of war booty to Melchizedek, King of Salem (Jerusalem) and priest of El Elyon, a Canaanite sky deity, invokes YHWH, not El Elyon.  I do not know what to make of Abram/Abraham.

Circumcision is a major issue in Philippians 3.  St. Paul the Apostle refers to rival missionaries who favor the circumcision of Gentile male converts to Christianity.  He calls these Judaizers “dogs,” a strong insult many Jews reserved for Gentiles.  One can find the mandate for circumcision of males (including some Gentiles) in Genesis 17:9-14, where it is a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant.  It has been, for Jews, a physical sign of the covenant for millennia.  It has become an emotional issue for people who favor it as a religious obligation and a mark of identity as well as for those who consider it cruel.

In Philippians 3 circumcision is, for St. Paul the Apostle, a physical sign of righteousness based on law, not on active faith in God.  The line between legalism and righteousness can be difficult to locate sometimes.  One should obey certain commandments out of fidelity and love and respect for God.  One loves and honors God, so one keeps the commandments of God.

If you love me you will obey my commands…,

John 14:15 (The Revised English Bible, 1989) quotes Jesus as saying.  But when does keeping commandments turn into a fetish of legalism?  And when does the maintenance of one’s identity transform into exclusion of others?  Where is that metaphorical line many people cross?

One sure way of knowing if one has crossed that line is catching that person obsessing over minute details while overlooking pillars of morality such as compassion.  If one, for example, complains not because Jesus has healed someone but because he has done this on the Sabbath, one is a legalist.  If one becomes uptight about personal peccadilloes yet remains unconcerned about institutionalized injustice (such as that of the sexist, racial, and economic varieties), one is a legalist.  If one’s spiritual identity entails labeling most other people as unclean or damned, one is a legalist.  If one thinks that moral living is merely a matter of following a spiritual checklist, one is a legalist.  If one becomes fixated on culturally specific examples of timeless principles at the expense of those principles, one is a legalist.

May we who claim to follow and love God eschew legalism.  May we also care for our close friends and relatives at least as much as we do suffering strangers for which we harbor concern.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 14, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN AMOS COMENIUS, FATHER OF MODERN EDUCATION

THE FEAST OF THE CONSECRATION OF SAMUEL SEABURY, FIRST EPISCOPAL BISHOP

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ROMANIS, ANGLICAN BISHOP AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/14/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-the-second-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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