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Proper 10 | Ordinary Time 15 | Pentecost 8 (Cycle C)

Sunday between July 10 and July 16 inclusive

Within most of the texts selected for us for this occasion there is a stimulating tension between the importance of adequate faith and right living as prerequisites for “salvation.” This stimulating tension exists regardless of whether “salvation” is perceived primarily in terms of life as we know it here and now with security, prosperity, and happiness for one’s self and for one’s family as in Psalm 25 and Deuteronomy 30, or whether “salvation” includes also the dimension of eternal life, as it does in the Newer Testament texts Colossians 1:1-14 and Luke 10:25-37.

Although the concept of salvation took on the added dimension of a future hope beyond this life as we know it during the course of theological development of the people of God, salvation in most of our biblical texts is perceived to be by the grace of God rather than by our own efforts. Our response to the grace of God is depicted as important, however. Adequate faithfulness to God is itself presented as a gift from God, as is our ability to achieve and to maintain right living.

If our proclamation this coming weekend is to be based on these selected texts, we shall want to share with the people in our congregations something about this stimulating tension between the importance of adequate faith and of right living for our salvation as expressed in these texts, without failing to emphasize that salvation, however perceived, is by the grace of God. The emphasis on “faith alone” may have been needed as a corrective in the theology and practice of the Western Church during the sixteenth century, but it should never be proclaimed apart from the related concept of “grace alone.” To proclaim faith apart from the related concept of the grace of God is to misuse Scripture by arbitrarily selecting certain portions of the Scriptures and downgrading other portions, losing sight of the stimulating tension between the importance of adequate faith and right living in the process. Neither should we pass too quickly to the concepts of God’s love and of our love in response to God and lose sight of this biblical tension.

This biblical tension is essential in our mission among people. Many of the people who will be hearing our proclamation this coming weekend have wondered and are wondering about this tension between adequate faith and right living and perhaps about what and where the grace of God is in all of this. Most people, other than pastors, put a heavy emphasis upon right living to ensure salvation, while many, perhaps most, pastors stress adequate faith, with both frequently tending to forget the overriding importance of the grace of God.

Psalm 25:1-10

Since the Lord (Adonai) is the God of the psalmist’s salvation (v. 2), the psalmist asks for guidance from the Lord regarding the lifestyle that will be most pleasing to the Lord (vv. 4-5, 8-9). At the same time, the psalmist declares complete trust in the Lord (vv. 1-2, 5-6, 8), and recognizes that salvation can come only through the mercy, love, and grace of the Lord, not by the efforts of the psalmist (vv. 3, 5b-7). We note that the understanding shared by the Apostle Paul in his letters that are included in our Newer Testament is very similar to what is written in this psalm.

Deuteronomy 30:9-14

This text is near the conclusion of the great, composite “sermon of Moses” building block of the Deuteronomic History that extends from Deuteronomy 4:44–30:20. If we look at the context, we see that the loss of the Israelite nation and the scattering of the Israelite people are known. Hope is expressed that the Lord will restore the people in their land and provide for them even greater prosperity than their ancestors enjoyed. The commandments of the Lord are depicted as a gift of God’s grace in an accessible form that will help the restored people to live as their ancestors should have lived. The commandments that the Lord provides have been placed into the hearts of the people, and it is said that the people will enjoy living in accordance with them.

Psalm 82

According to this psalm, the evil that God will soon judge and destroy is the evil of those “gods” whose followers on the earth oppress the weak and the fatherless. Then God (as perceived by the Israelites), who is already far superior to those other “gods,” will be supreme and unopposed, and God’s oppressed people will be rescued, free to serve God with no impediments.

Amos 7:7-17

Through the words of Amos, a herdsman and worker among sycamore trees, called to be a prophet of the Lord God with a message of condemnation for the king, priests, and others in the Northern Kingdom Israel who were oppressing the poor people of that land economically and politically, God speaks to warn the oppressors about the judgment of the Lord God against them.

This message is consistent with the message of Psalm 82. The oppressive people whose lives were characterized by neither adequate faith in God nor right living are condemned by the prophet of God as directed by God.

Colossians 1:1-14

The Pauline writer puts considerable emphasis in this text on the importance of good deeds to please the Lord (v. 10), without losing sight of adequate faith in God through the Christian Messiah Jesus and the love for all of God’s people (v. 4). It is only by the grace of the Father, however, that we are qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints in light, in the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (vv. 12-13).

Luke 10:25-37

This Lukan Parable of the Good Samaritan indicates quite clearly that adequate faith alone is not sufficient, since both the priest and the Levite obviously had adequate faith. Where both the priest and the Levite are shown to be lacking in this parable is in the area of right living. It was their responsibility as people who had faith in God to risk their lives, if necessary, to live right by helping the man who had been severely attacked and injured. This they both failed to do, even though they were both people of faith.

The Samaritan is praised in this parable because he demonstrated both faith that God would protect him while he came to the aid of the helpless man and actions that were right for a person who has faith. Therefore, he is praised.

If we limit our proclamation here to a warmed-over rerun of our old, used Good Samaritan sermons, it is likely that we shall provide only a right living emphasis. If we share, however, the stimulating, creative tension between adequate faith and right living that is demonstrated in this and in the other texts selected for us for this occasion, we shall help the people who hear us to grow in their faith as well as in their maturity and ethics, as they reflect theologically over their own lives.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen