Lectionary 27 C

The Phillipists are at it again! But at least we've broken away from citations in only the Epistle. If you really want to draw people into serious reflection, this could be a week to explore faith and existence, the difference between being alive and merely being.

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

The last line of Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted several places, but in two versions. First is the version from the reading: 

the righteous live by their faith

--Habakkuk 2:4c, NRSV

Second is the alternate reading: 

the one who is righteous through faith will live

--Habakkuk 2:4c, NRSV alt

The first quote is in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Justification (AP 4.100) and is the first version. Melanchthon here emphasizes that faith makes us alive. The alternate reading of this part of the verse probably make this point more clearly.

This is the point of the second quotation a bit later in the same article (AP 4.180, quarto) when Melanchthon pulls from Romans 1:17 where Paul probably quotes this verse, but in the alternate form. In this section of the Apology, Melanchthon is making a case for the idea that love does not justify us before God. This verse and several other Pauline snippets point to whatever serves to ease the conscience before God as justifying us before God. It is faith, not love, Melanchthon argues, that receives the comforting promise of God's forgiveness of our sins and so eases our troubled consciences.

The third quotation, still further in the Apology, Article 12: Repentance (AP 12.47), again quotes both Habakkuk 2:4 and Romans 1:17 and again in the alternate reading, but here Melanchthon points out the two parts of repentance as Paul writes about it, namely contrition and faith. This verse shows the power of faith, which brings life, as opposed to contrition, which drives us by the fear of death. Existential dread, however, does not justify us before God and has no guarantee of leading us into life. Only faith in God's promise, the faith that makes us righteous, empowers us to live.

The final quotation of this verse in is Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 3: Righteousness (SD 3.57) and is of the first version. The verse here is part of the argument that it is faith that makes us righteous before God because God acted in the full person of Jesus to save us. But rather than simple knowledge or some kind of work, it is through the Holy Sprit's gift of faith that we are made righteous before God and live.

Psalm 37:1-9

Verse 5 is quoted in The Augsburg Confession, Article 25: Confession (AC 25.11) within a quote from Chrysostom's Concerning Confession that uses the translation from the Vulgate. The point in turning to this Church father is that he says that when confessing we should confess what is on our conscience. This may not seem like much of a claim, but the point of the Lutheran reformers was that no person can fully enumerate all of their sins when confessing, so expecting and teaching this way should be stopped. Not that confession should be stopped, but that forcing people to try and list all of their sins is silly and should be stopped.

Psalm 137 (Semicontinuous, Alternate)

Verse 9 is quoted in a footnote to Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 23: The Marriage of Priests (AP 23.18, n. 472) where a portion of the Confutation is presented. In the Confutation, verse 9 is interpreted allegorically with the "little ones" being "carnal thoughts" and "the rock" being "Christ" so that those in holy orders were called to quash "their passions" through prayer. Melanchthon cites this passage as a mockery of the teaching of scripture which calls celibacy a gift for the few and has nothing to do with being in a holy order. So rather than create an undue expectation and make people feel guilty when they can't live up to it, Melanchthon argues that the teaching should be restored to a rare spiritual gift. Especially since not even the priests who were teaching the holiness of celibacy in general were living celibate lives.

2 Timothy 1:1-14

A footnote in the Preface to The Small Catechism (SC Preface, n. 4) comments that the conclusion to Luther's initial subscription probably comes from a similar phrase in both 1 Timothy 1:2 and 2 Timothy 1:2.

Verses 9-11 are cited in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 11: Election (SD 11.26) as a framing for making sense of the doctrine of election. Mainly that rather than try to use reason, legality, or appearance to determine whether or not someone is part of the elect, or even think we could figure this out, we should instead attend to God's revelation in Jesus, teaching and proclaiming this good news.

Verse 9 by itself is quoted in quick succession a little later in the same article (SD 11.43 & 45) to remind us that our salvation is accomplished by God's will and purpose. Any kind of predestination talk refers to God's will in bringing people to faith--a will that at the end proves stronger than any other, and has been since the beginning.

Verse 13 is cited twice in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 4: Good Works (SD 4.24 and 36). First through an editorial insert explaining the phrase "standard of sound expression," which was being used against those who taught that works aid in justification and salvation. The second citation is a quote given as Paul's exhortation to return to the scripture as a way to avoid fighting over the teaching on works.

Luke 17:5-10

Verse 10 is quoted three times. First in The Augsburg Confession, Article 6: Obedience (AC 6.2) as a reminder that good work, or obedience to the faith God gives us, does not produce salvation or earn God's grace. Rather, good works are simply what is expected of those possessed by the Holy Spirit. 

The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Justification provides the other two quotes. The first (AP 4.334 quarto) expands on the theme above. The second (4.335) shows Melanchthon picking apart the interpretation of this verse in the Confutation. Reading through this section (4.335-336 with footnotes), one can easily see where two interpretations about works came about.

TheoThru

Faith is living. Doing good is expected from those with faith, not rewarded.

This is a hard set of conclusions for me to encounter. The first conclusion I run towards as good news. Being alive is having faith that God will keep the promises. This faith frees us to live not bound by fear and shame.

The second conclusion stops me short. I know it intuitively and have even called out its appearance in other places like Hamlet's line, "use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?" But this second conclusion is a reminder that doing good is often rewarded with more demand for doing good work.

If we rest our salvation on our own ability to do good work, we will never be able to do enough good work. There's too much good work to do. Yet we are expected to do good work by both the Spirit who empowers us to do good work through faith and by the world. We do good work for the sake of our neighbors who need our good work, not for our own sake or God's sake. But we cannot faithfully expect our good work to every be enough or even recognized. Yet faith, in even the smallest amount, make the impossible achievable.

  • How do you and your congregation discern what good works God is calling you to do?
  • How can we avoid the rational of solipsistic philanthropy for doing good work?
  • How do we emphasize good work as that which comes from faith rather than as a sign of being elected for salvation or earning salvation?