Monthly Archives: February 2013

Children of promise and purpose


He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham,
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
(Canticle 16, BCP 92)

In the passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians appointed for this morning, the apostle quotes the same passage we read today from the Book of Isaiah.

The prophet uses the image of a childless woman being blessed with children to symbolize Israel’s restoration to God’s favor. Paul extends the metaphor, widening the circle to include “children of the promise,” that is, the Gentiles (Gal. 4:23).

Like Isaac, who was born as a sign of God’s promise to Abraham, the Gentiles are also heirs of that promise. Paul’s extended argument is to remind the Galatians that their hope rests on God’s promise, not on observance of the law. Or, as he puts it elsewhere, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).

In the Collect for Grace, usually read on Wednesday mornings, we not only thank God for bringing us “in safety to this new day” but also go on to ask that he “direct us to the fulfilling of [his] purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord” (BCP 100).

We seek to be “holy and righteous in God’s sight” because of our gratitude at being children of the promise. We then go on to use the gifts God has given us as children of purpose, whose mission is to bring ever more people within the reach of Christ’s saving embrace.


Until Christ is formed in you

At last night’s awards dinner for our sales team, our newly-hired VP introduced himself and invited us to connect what we do with people. When we keep in mind the people we ultimately serve, he said, we will do our work with passion.

My company sells software to hospitals that helps eliminate wasted time and motion and ultimately ensures that people who need a bed can get into it sooner. Whenever we hear the siren of an ambulance — as we did, coincidentally, in the middle of our VP’s address to us — we can call to mind our purpose.

My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, I wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. (Galatians 4:19-20)

One of the reasons Paul’s letters are still such a powerful inspiration some 2,000 years later is the very human voice that shines through. Paul may be boastful, but he is completely dedicated to the task of nurturing his children in faith.

His letter to the Galatians is a window into the mind of a man perplexed that the Galatians seem to be forgetting the freedom he preached in Christ. They are turning back to their old ways, and he cannot rest “until Christ is formed in them.”

What purpose keeps you from resting until the people you serve receive what they need?

If the Son makes you free

Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.
(Nunc dimittis, BCP 120)

The Scripture readings appointed for Morning Prayer on this Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple (that’s a mouthful!) all point to the freedom represented by the infant son of Mary and Joseph.

The Psalmist takes us back to the perennial complaint: “Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul, and why are you so disquieted within me?” (Ps. 42:1).

Both Hannah’s song (1 Samuel 2) and Zechariah’s song (Canticle 16, BCP 92) point to a child as the symbol of God’s saving action in the world.

In Hannah’s song, sung in her joy after she has become pregnant, God is the one who “makes poor and makes rich, he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts up the needy from the ash-heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor” (1 Sam. 2:7-8).

Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, sings a song to God and to his infant son: “You, my child, shall be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins” (BCP 92).

And the one presented in the Temple this day?

As an adult, Jesus invites the Jews who had believed in him to understand that the truth will set them free. The Son, the true Son of God, has come to set all people free from their slavery to sin. Our souls no longer need be heavy. We will know salvation by the forgiveness of our sins.

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

That’s a promise worth singing about!

To listen as those who are taught

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, *
nor your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, *
    so are my ways higher than your ways,
    and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Canticle 10, BCP 86)

I’m something of a professional know-it-all.

My job is to be the “expert,” helping the sales executives of my company by articulating a vision of patient flow in hospitals and demonstrating how our solutions have helped our clients achieve impressive outcomes.

I’m very good at what I do, and I have been doing it for nearly ten years with this company, both as a client and as a member of the sales team.

In that ten years, though, the company has added many new capabilities, acquired new technologies, and recruited lots of new people who bring their expertise into the mix. Frankly, it’s fun to have so many cool things to present on and talk about.

However, it’s often hard for us “know-it-alls” to become students again. It’s very easy to become so invested in the way you articulate your vision that you can’t hear new ideas. I struggle especially to really listen to how new leaders in the company articulate their vision of what we do.

Copyright Mark Anderson

Isaiah the prophet describes this conundrum beautifully:

The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens — wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. (Isaiah 50:4-5)

For me, this lesson has immediate import. I will be spending all of next week in meetings of our national sales team, where we will be learning about new product offerings and how they integrate (or will integrate) with our current solutions. We’ll even spend a day visiting a client hospital to hear how they use our solutions every day.

I’ll need to “listen as those who are taught” and resist the impulse to “turn backward” into the familiar content I know so well. Many of the people that I hear from next week that will not follow my usual script.

If I can listen carefully, then my new presentations will bear new fruit and my new demonstrations will “accomplish that which I purpose” (to continue Isaiah’s thought in Canticle 10).

Who might you need to listen to this week, setting aside your own ideas so that you can take in a new word? What will keep you from doing this?