Tag Archives: 1 Corinthians

Undefended, powerless, but kept in God’s love

Today’s collect for the Third Sunday in Lent is pretty serious.

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

It lays out the fear that paralyzes our bodies and neutralizes our souls and in it we pray that we may be not just defended, but kept in God’s love.

We get one thing right in this prayer. We ask for two things that we’re never going to get. And we get from God something “more than we can ask or imagine.”

So, the first thing we get wrong …

 

That we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body

Then the LORD said [to Moses], “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:7-10)

Moses’ first efforts, unfortunately, made Pharaoh angry and he punished the Israelites by cutting off their supply of straw but requiring they make the same number of bricks each day. So their work was doubled and their bodies further harmed.

Ultimately, however, the LORD redeemed their bodies from slavery and the whip but immediately subjected their bodies to the harsh conditions of the wilderness.

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’ (Exodus 16:2-3)

Reminds me of the “ex-leper” in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, who complains that Jesus has healed him: “One minute I’m a leper with a trade; the next minute, my livelihood’s gone! Bloody do-gooder!”

“There’s no pleasing some people,” Brian replies.

“That’s just what Jesus said, sir!”

Ex-leper

We’re wrong to believe that we will be defended from bodily harm, just as we’re wrong to think that we’ll be freed from “evil thoughts.”

 

That we may be defended from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul

Jesus is being cross-examined by the Pharisees and lawyers in front of a growing crowd when someone asks him: “Oh yeah, what about those Galileans who were killed in church?”

He retorts, “Do you think you’re better than they were?”

The Galileans killed in the Temple by Pilate’s soldiers, their blood mingling with their sacrifices … or how about the eighteen people killed in the Siloam tower collapse?

Jesus asks, “Do you think you’re better than they were?”

Or how about the nine people who died during the tornadoes this week?

Do you think you’re better than they were?

Or how about the 41 people injured and 25 people killed by gun violence this week in Iuka MS, Orlando, Kalamazoo, Houston, Hazelwood MO, Daytona Beach, Glendale AZ, Hesston KS, and Belfair WA? (I had to Google to be sure I didn’t miss any.)

Do you think you’re better than they were?

Or how about people on food stamps or unemployment?

Do you think you’re better than they are?

Or how about Bernie supporters? Trump supporters?

Do you think you’re better than they are?

These are perfect examples of what recovery programs call “stinking thinking,” the thought that this time (for me) it’ll be different. This time (for me) the rules don’t apply. This time (for me) the consequences won’t be so severe.

What a crock! And we know it, but we’re afraid to admit it. We’re no better than anyone else, and in our blindness we may in fact be worse.

But we do get one essential thing right in our prayer.

God knows we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves

Moses gets it right.

“Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God …. and Moses asked “Who am I that I should go?” (Exodus 3:6, 11)

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Paul continues in the same vein, using the Israelites in the wilderness as an example to the Christians in Corinth:

Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. (1 Cor. 10)

Who are we to say we’re any better than our ancestors in the faith, any less likely to stray into temptation, any less likely to complain, any less likely to put Christ to the test?

“There’s no pleasing some people,” Jesus says.

“These things happened to them to serve as an example,” Paul writes, “and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.”

 

Almighty God, keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls

We are not defended from bodily adversity; we are not defended from “stinking thinking,” and we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.

Even knowing God’s name doesn’t work like a magic spell or give us special powers.

Richard Rohr suggests that even God’s name, I AM WHO I AM – or YAHWEH – is not a real name at all, but the sound of one’s breathing. (Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality)

No wonder Moses doesn’t seem convinced. Instead of a name to convince the Israelites and Pharaoh, all he gets is the sound of his own breathing.

[IN] YAH

[OUT] WEH

Our chests tighten in fear [IN], and we exhale in relief [OUT].

We suffer and die [IN] just like anyone does, but we are given a name and a promise [OUT] to sustain us.

We struggle against oppression and violence [IN], even as we recognize it in ourselves [OUT].

I think I’m standing [IN], but I’ve got to watch out that I don’t fall [OUT].

We are not magically defended from bodily harm; we are not righteously defended from “stinking thinking,” and if we’re honest we’ll admit we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves – at least not any better than anyone else does.

But “in falling and in rising, we are kept ever precious in one love,” as Julian of Norwich reminds us.

Falling rising Julian

And that’s what we get right in this morning’s Collect. We are kept ever precious in God’s one love.

We are undefended, like all of God’s followers have been,
but our bodies are kept in one love.

We are undefended, like all of God’s followers have been,
but our souls are kept in one love.

We are powerless to save ourselves,
but we ourselves are kept in one love.

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[IN] Keep us, [OUT] Almighty God.

[IN] Keep me, [OUT] O God.

[IN] O God. [OUT]

For ourselves and on behalf of others

Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy,
for we have had more than enough of contempt,
Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich,
and of the derision of the proud. (Psalm 123:4-5)

In light of the renewed anger in Ferguson following last night’s announcement that the grand jury will not indict police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, and in light of the repeated calls for “peace, peace where there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14), the Daily Office and today’s readings speak a word we need to hear.

We begin Morning Prayer each day by reminding ourselves that we come together “to set forth [God’s] praise, to hear his holy Word, and to ask, for ourselves and on behalf of others, those things that are necessary for our life and for our salvation” (BCP 79).

For ourselves

Morning Prayer begins with the Confession of Sin for a reason. We need first and foremost to admit what we’ve done wrong and recommit to doing right. We do this every day because we stumble and fall every day.

In today’s Gospel reading, the blind beggar from Jericho speaks with our voice: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38). We are all blind to the depth of our sins, but God’s mercy opens our eyes so that we can see truthfully. We see our sin, but we also see that we are held in love.

Seeing clearly convicts us, every day, of our need to repent.

And we have a lot to admit to and repent for. In today’s Old Testament reading, God has Zechariah act out a prophecy against us.

“Be a shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter,” God tells Zechariah, for “Those who buy them kill them and go unpunished; and those who sell them say, ‘Blessed be the Lord, for I have become rich’; and their shepherds have no pity on them” (Zech. 11:4-5).

We who are rich and comfortable and safe in our houses — that includes me and that includes nearly everyone reading these words — we benefit from the same social order that kills young black men and goes unpunished.

We are made to feel safe and secure by the police and the legal system and courts and judges, by a system that focuses our attention on the career of Darren Wilson instead of on the body of Michael Brown.

In the media coverage of looters whom we can look down on, in public officials’ calls for peace and order and restraint, in our own desire to get back to our Thanksgiving cooking and Christmas shopping, we demonstrate that we “have no pity on them.”

On behalf of others

But “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). We who are called to follow Christ are called instead to put on “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).

When we pray for others in the spirit of Christ, we see that they need the same love that we depend on day by day. We see that even though their experience is different than ours, their human spirit is the same.

The founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Richard Meux Benson, writes:

In praying for others we learn really and truly to love them. As we approach God on their behalf we carry the thought of them into the very being of eternal Love, and as we go into the being of him who is eternal Love, so we learn to love whatever we take with us there.

As we approach God “on their behalf” …. on their behalf, not ours … we ask different questions.

What do they need in the midst of their situation? The looters, the police, the young people, the larger St. Louis community?

What strength do they require to endure their heartbreak? What consolation do they need in their grief? Michael Brown’s family, Darren Wilson and his family, the young and old who live in Ferguson?

What inspiration will show them how they can serve? The lawyers and the judges, the pastors and the police, the protestors and the property owners?

God knows what I have done and left undone, God knows what I need, and God loves me every day.

As I turn my thoughts and prayers to the needs and concerns of other people, whom God also loves every day, as I approach God on their behalf, perhaps I can begin to learn to love them as God does.

Perhaps I can also learn to act toward them like God does through Jesus.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (BCP 101)

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To be further clothed

All is in order for the ordination and consecration of Matthew Gunter as the Eighth Bishop of Fond du Lac.

At the rehearsal yesterday afternoon, we practiced helping Matt put on his new vestments. Some are familiar to him already — stole and chasuble — but some will feel awkward and uncomfortable at first.

Which way round does the miter go?

We wish not to be unclothed, but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up in life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (1 Cor. 5:4b-5)

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of your faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers which we offer before you for all members of your holy Church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (BCP 100)

We will all be changed

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor. 15:51-54)

Lay claim to Jesus

Br. James Koester offers this reflection today for Brother, Give Us a Word:

It is our time to lay claim, not just to the message of the Cross but of the Empty Tomb as well. Now is the time for us to lay claim to hope and health and life. Now is our time to lay claim to Jesus.

We will all be changed

“Hope and health and life” all describe change.

We hope for something better, something as yet unseen but witnessed by others. Like the apostles, we worry that it might be “an idle tale,” too good to be true, but over time the undeniable change in others builds hope in us.

Health is more than the absence of illness; it’s the embrace of wholeness. Where in Lent we often practice giving up things that are bad for us, perhaps in Easter we can embrace the One who is good for us — Jesus, the Son who “has life in himself” (John 5:26).

Living in Jesus is like being invited to step through a doorway with him. It’s as if we have been in the tomb, too, and we see the light shining brighter as we duck through the opening, as we are reborn, into larger life.

 

Bearing witness to victory

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:26-28)

Flying our flag

At the parish I serve, St. Thomas Church in Menasha, WI, our rector’s sermon on Easter Day urged us, in the face of other people’s grief and loss, not to tell them what they should believe about the resurrection, but instead simply to “fly your own flag” of witness.

This is wisdom for so many situations.

People struggling with substance abuse, dealing with issues of mental illness, in despair at the loss of a job, or grieving at the death of a loved one, may not be able to look to God directly and may resent being told what to believe.

But perhaps seeing our flag, hearing our simple witness, will “give them courage and hope in their troubles” (BCP 389).

Like Mary Magdalene, whose banner might simply read “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18), we bring hope into other people’s lives by bearing witness to the possibility of victory.

Victory

Br. David Vryhof, whose meditation is shared today at Brother, Give Us a Word, reflects on the healing power of looking to God:

Jesus embodies that death-defeating, life-giving power, and even an evil force bent on destruction and death cannot overcome his strength to save and heal. Do not give in to despair. Look to God and believe.

In the picture Resurrection by Pierro della Francesca, the central image my rector used in his sermon, we see Christ rising from the tomb and planting his flag of victory over death and the grave.

Perhaps our own flags of witness — “I have seen the Lord” — are what the people around us need to see in order for them to believe that victory can be theirs, too.

Making all things new

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you — unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Cor. 15:1-8)

Of first importance

“Christ died for our sins … he was buried … he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.”

Paul makes this simple statement here just a few years after the founding of the church in Corinth in 50 or 51 AD, and Christians repeat it to this day in the words of the Nicene Creed (BCP 358).

Paul goes on to say Christ appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve, then to more than 500, then to James, then to all the apostles, then to Paul himself.

These things happened.

They connect with the record of God’s saving acts recorded in scripture.

Real people, known to the first witnesses of the resurrection, also experienced Christ’s appearing.

Not just all people, but all things

In his Easter week meditation for Brother, Give Us a Word, Br. Mark Brown of the Society of St. John the Evangelist reflects that:

Something that pertains to the whole cosmos is happening in the death and resurrection of Christ. From the depths of the inner worlds to the furthest reaches of outer space. “Behold, I am making all things new” — not just all people, but all things.

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Life is being renewed in Christ, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still have to work at driving away “wrong desires” or “keeping God’s law” or  following “the way of peace.”

We also still have to use the plunger on clogged toilets, as Lovely Wife and I discovered this morning.

Even the “things” sometimes resist this new creation in Christ, but as witnesses ourselves to the resurrection, we can see now that they are shot through with new promise — that even our struggles fit somehow into a larger pattern of new life at work in the world around us.

Out of the depths

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Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers; *
you are worthy of praise; glory to you.
Glory to you for the radiance of your holy Name; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

Glory to you in the splendor of your temple; *
on the throne of your majesty, glory to you.
Glory to you, seated between the Cherubim; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

Glory to you, beholding the depths; *
in the high vault of heaven, glory to you.
Glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

I’m not sure these were the exact words Joseph said to himself as he looked up from the bottom of the pit his brothers had thrown him into (Genesis 37:12-24).

It’s kind of strange that they’re the words we say (Canticle 13) right after we read that lesson from Genesis at Morning Prayer today.

But it’s also kind of appropriate, this juxtaposition between the bottom of the pit and God’s glory, especially during the season of Lent.

Lent makes us mindful how far we are from the glory God intends for us.

Lent reminds us in Paul’s words that “not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:26-27).

This particular Lent reminds me, as I work the steps in my recovery process, that I “could not manage [my] own [life]; that probably no human power could have relieved [my problem]; that God could and would if He were sought” (Big Book 60).

The collect we usually read on Tuesday mornings also feels especially appropriate when we consider God’s goodness — God’s choosing us — in the face of our own sin and the predicaments we find ourselves in.

A Collect for Peace

O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)