By Pastor Bill
I’m blown away by the excitement and support SLC has given as I begin a 3 month time of travel, learning, family time, and rest/recreation. Saying I’m thankful doesn’t really cut it – I’m over joyed and mega-thankful!
Over the summer I will occasionally write some articles to keep SLC connected to my journey. Remember, as PJ showed last summer, it is better to say that WE are going on a sabbatical as we will all be blessed by this venture. So indeed, I will share some reflections as I go and here I want to mention briefly an experience on the flight from JFK to Tel Aviv as I begin.
Evidently there is a festival happening in the Holy Land of particular importance to the Ultra-Orthodox Jews. These are the folks who wear the hats and who you see rocking back and forth while they pray and face Jerusalem–especially at the Wailing Wall. I must confess, it didn’t help my sleeping as they got up and down in the plane to find a place to pray and put on their prayer shawls and Phylacteries. All kinds of thoughts went through my mind: First, one has to admire their dedication and zeal. Yet, I also thought of Jesus’ words about practicing one’s piety before others (Matthew 6:5). Two of them, a father (60s) and son (40s) sat next to me. In between their prayers and sleep – I noticed that the father was reading the Torah with his son and teaching him – my Hebrew isn’t good enough to follow what he was saying but the father was quietly yet passionately instructing his son who was engaged constantly nodding and once in awhile offering his comment. They said very little to me but were not unkind, in fact, the son gave me some kind of rolled sweet treat so I guess my smile made some connection. Their devotion made me think of Psalm 1:2. “Their delight is on the the Torah (law) of the LORD, and on his Torah (law) they meditate day and night.” They definitely take this verse literally!
Yet, as I saw their labors and commitment to the law, it also reminded me of Luther’s words directed to teachers and pastors in his commentary on Galatians:
I admonish you, especially those of you who are to become instructors of consciences, as well as each of you individually, that you exercise yourselves by study, by reading, by meditation, and by prayer, so that in temptation you will be able to instruct consciences, both your own and others, console them, and take them from the Law to grace, from active righteousness to passive righteousness, in short, from Moses to Christ.
I’m thankful for Luther’s rediscovery that the righteousness of God is actually a free gift achieved by Christ’s death and resurrection, given freely, & received by trust (Galatians 3.11). This giving and receiving kind of righteousness, what Luther calls “passive,” is what saves and makes us whole. Now I’m free to follow and obey God, empowered by the Spirit, to the best of my ability and that includes my piety and prayers. But I’m thankful I now get to do all I do out of sheer appreciation and joy vs. an obligation!
Tomorrow Nazareth and Sea of Galilee. I will be where our Lord began his ministry of reconciliation! PB
Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 26, p. 10). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.