Tag Archives: Romans

Come to a sober and right mind

A friend spoke to me earlier this week about sobriety. He said, “What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.”

I now know that he was quoting from the Big Blue Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, but those words spoke volumes to me about the difference between duty and grace.

The duty of “maintaining our spiritual condition” is at the heart of programs like AA — and I’m beginning to understand how hard and serious that work is in every life.

The gift, the grace of a daily reprieve, is what sobriety represents.

I have often thought of my struggles to maintain a regular discipline of prayer — or any discipline of any kind, for that matter.  Like Paul, “I do not understand my own actions. I do not do what I want, but the very thing I hate” (1 Cor. 7:15).

My friend has me thinking differently today.

What if the daily prayer, the day without drinking, the day without shopping (or whatever else it may be), is not a burdensome duty to fail at yet again — but is actually the gift of rest for a moment?

The work is hard enough without making grace and rest a duty, too.

“Come unto me, all who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you,” says our Lord (Matt. 11:28).

Come to a sober and right mind as you maintain your spiritual condition.

Come to a daily reprieve.

Lose Yourself to Dance

Then David said to Michal, the daughter of Saul:

Here, take my shirt
and just go ‘head and wipe off all the
sweat, sweat, sweat …
Lose yourself to dance! (2 Sam. 6:21-22, paraphrased)

And Paul said, “So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s … Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister, or why do you despise your brother or sister? Lose yourself to dance!” (Romans 14:7-10, paraphrased).

The stone which the builders rejected

rothko_chapel

The same stone which the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone. 
This is the LORD’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes. 
On this day the LORD has acted;
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
(Psalm 118:22-24)

How is it that people associate Christians with holier-than-thou attitudes and an insistence on purity? How is it that judgment is the face the world too often sees?

We are built around “the same stone which the builders rejected” — Jesus, a convicted criminal executed by the Romans. The foundation supported by that cornerstone, the Church, was built out of his followers, who rejected him, denied him, grasped for power, and persecuted each other. They generally got it wrong throughout Jesus’ life, and only the Spirit of God could get them going in the right direction. We still get it wrong more often than not.

If we are a holy temple, acceptable to God, we are built out of broken bricks and rocky rubble, not smooth and shining stones.

Why should people think they have to be holy in order to come in to the Church? We ourselves weren’t holy; we’ve been made holy by having our pitted pebbles grafted into others’ cracked concrete.

Unity in the Spirit is what makes the temple beautiful, not the uniformity of the building material.

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 230)

 

Daily Office Challenge

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The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval.
Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding
(Romans 14:18-19).

Two days ago I responded to a tweet by Marek Zabriskie of the Bible Challenge which seemed to me to be making a false opposition between the lectionary and “reading all the Scriptures.” I was hasty and abrupt in my reply — a failing of mine exacerbated by Twitter’s 140-character limit.

The Bible Challenge is an approach to reading the entire Bible in the course of a year rather than just hearing the selections read in worship on Sundays. In that sense, it is a very important project — one I have embarked on several times before, as have many members of the congregations I have belonged to. Reading the whole Bible gives you a sense of the sweep of salvation history and the relationship between parts of Scripture that you might not otherwise get on Sunday mornings.

For myself, I have benefited the most over the years from the Bible-reading plan outlined in The Illustrated Bible Handbook by Edward P. Blair (Abingdon 1985). Blair’s book is long out of print, unfortunately, though you can still find a few copies around.

My initial point, however, is that there’s more than one lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer.

The lectionary for the Daily Office — for Morning and Evening Prayer — provides for the praying of the Psalms and the course reading of Scripture. The Psalms are prayed over a seven-week cycle, the bulk of the New Testament each year, and the bulk of the Old Testament over the course of two years (see BCP 934 and following).

Because Morning and Evening Prayer are part of the public worship of the Church (with the Holy Eucharist on Sundays), the readings in the Daily Office lectionary are organized to reflect the seasons of the Church Year, unlike the Bible Challenge’s approach of reading through the Old Testament in order, supplemented by New Testament passages and Psalms each day.

Marek observes in a subsequent tweet that “Episcopalians excel on Sunday. Our weakness is Monday to Saturday. Helping folks engage Scripture and pray each day is critical.” I couldn’t agree more.

The practice of the Daily Office puts the reading of Scripture in the context of prayer, and the canticles and collects appointed for the Sundays and weekdays of the Church Year help us to understand and interpret Scripture in the way that Christians throughout the centuries have done.

The Bible Challenge and the practice of the Daily Office complement each other, though they are designed with different purposes in mind.

“Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

The more we soak ourselves in Scripture, the more we begin and end each day in prayer and Scripture reading (no matter which method we prefer to use), the more readily we will recognize Jesus’ voice and his call for our lives.

On that we can all agree.

The means of grace and the hope of glory

Christ in the Tomb. Image based on a sculpture found at the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Starkenburg, Missouri. Photo by Mark S. Abeln.

Jesus is dead.

The cross has done its work. Jesus is dead.

His secret followers have laid him in a tomb. Jesus is dead.

Today there is nothing but prayer, Sabbath prayer to the God of creation.

Today “the whole creation waits with eager longing” (Rom. 8:19) to be set free from its bondage to decay.

The cross, “the means of grace,” has done its work, but for today there is only “the hope of glory” (BCP 100).

Today there is only the tomb.

Jesus is dead.

That which God has purposed

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law, and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? (Romans 2:17-21)

There is a serious vein running through today’s lessons from Jeremiah and Isaiah through to Paul and Christ.

Jeremiah recounts God’s judgment on God’s people and on Jerusalem. “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor have I turned back” (Jer. 4:27-28).

God’s judgment is terrible, and he is unrelenting.

Except then comes the Canticle, the Second Song of Isaiah (Isa. 55:6-11), with its familiar words of reassurance:

For as rain and snow fall from the heavens
and return not again, but water the earth,
Bringing forth life and giving growth,
seed for sowing and bread for eating,
So is my word which goes forth from my mouth;
it will not return to me empty,
But it will accomplish that which I have purposed,
and prosper in that for which I sent it.

Christians, of course, read these words in the light of Christ the Word who “goes forth from God,” so to speak, and who accomplishes what God purposes.

What God purposes, we know from our vantage point post-Easter, is not desolation but restoration. God has “relented” once for all in Christ and continues to be present to us through the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide. How can we forget what God has done for us, has won for us, in Christ?

This is what frustrates Paul so much in his letter to the Romans. He basically asks, “Are you turning away from grace and back to the judgment under the law which cannot save?”

His question resonates with the prophets’ words. Are we turning away from restoration and teaching desolation? Are we preaching grace or sin?

Of course, it’s not an either/or thing. Grace freely given comes with a consciousness of sin. When I have been forgiven, I am acutely aware of exactly what I have done wrong. But the message from my forgiver — whether it’s my wife or the priest pronouncing God’s absolution on Sunday — is restoration, not condemnation.

Where in our lives do we still reflect a spirit of judgment, faces set in a disapproving frown? Where do we still dwell on faults more than freedom, quick to relay dirt and to dismiss others’ pain? Where do we still fail to preach the message of good news that animated Jesus and Paul and our forebears in this life in Christ?

Even worse, where does our judgmentalism and obsession with rectitude cause “the Name of God to be blasphemed” because of us (Rom. 2:24)? It’s happening all around us as people turn away from angry so-called “Christianity.” God forbid!

Like rain falling from the heavens is God’s grace falling on us, on all of us who “have no power in ourselves to help ourselves,” in the words of next Sunday’s Collect. What God has purposed is our restoration, our reconciliation with God, and our reaching out in love to the people around us.

What we can be sure of is that God’s word will prosper in us, will teach us, as we live out God’s restoring mission.

Joy and peace to all

For as the new heavens and the new earth,
which I will make,
shall remain before me, says the Lord;
so shall your descendants and your name remain.
From new moon to new moon
and from sabbath to sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
says the Lord. (Isaiah 66:22-23)

One of the Principal Feasts of the church year, the Epiphany celebrates the “Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles,” as our Prayer Book calendar calls it (BCP 31). The wise men stand in for the whole Gentile world (that is, all of us) as they see and recognize in the child Jesus the promised salvation of the world.

Listen to one of the prayers for mission that we commonly use at Evening Prayer:

“O God and Father of all, whom the whole heavens adore: Let the whole earth also worship you, all nations obey you, all tongues confess and bless you, and men and women everywhere love you and serve you in peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (BCP 124)

Christ’s coming is for all, not just for the Jews, not just for the Orthodox or the Catholics, not just for the Lutherans or the Presbyterians or the Calvinists, not just for the Anglicans or the “real” Anglicans, not just for my parish or for yours, but for all.

Our religious tendency toward exclusivity does not serve God’s purpose of bringing light to all — to the whole earth, all nations, all tongues, men and women everywhere.

In the readings appointed for this Eve of the Epiphany, Isaiah points toward that future day when all flesh will worship God together, and Paul prays on behalf of the Romans (Gentiles like us): “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit” (BCP 126).

“All joy and peace.” Joy and peace to all. That’s a fitting note on which to begin our worship this Epiphany.