Thursday, October 11, 2007

New Wine

Thursday, October 11, 2007 -- Week of Proper 22
(Philip, Deacon and Evangelist)

"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

Audio Podcasts of today's "Morning Reflection" and those from the past week are available from http://www.stpaulsfay.org/id244.html (go to St. Paul's Home Page www.stpaulsfay.org and click "Morning Reflection podcast")


Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Prayer Book, p. 986)
Psalms 131, 132, [133] (morning) 134, 135 (evening)
2 Kings 23:4-25
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Matthew 9:18-26

Yesterday Matthew gave two images about the difficulty of receiving the new teaching and spirit of Jesus. You don't patch an old cloak with new unshrunk fabric. It will tear. You don't put new, active wine into an old, stretched wineskin. It will burst. Matthew wants to preserve both old and new. Put the new wine in new wineskins, "and so both are preserved."

Then something new happens. As Jesus is on the way to help the synagogue leader, "suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak," hoping to be healed. Jesus responded with power and compassion, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well."

That's the new wine. The old wine, the law of the Torah pronounced the woman unclean. She should not have touched Jesus. Having been touched by her, Jesus should have recognized himself to be unclean. He should have left immediately, not entered the synagogue leader's home, but rather undertaken the prescribed rituals in order to be cleansed. Jesus did not do that. Instead, he blessed and healed the woman with the hemorrhages, and he went into the home of the leader. There, he committed a second act of "new wine." In defiance of the Biblical prohibition of touching corpses, he takes the hand of the girl who was presumed dead and restores her to life. (If he had done all of this on the Sabbath, Jesus would have hit a trifecta.) The defenders of the Biblical traditions simply burst with anger when he did things like this.

Paul tells the Corinthians that there are "varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit." The Spirit in manifested in gifts ("charismata"), services ("diakoniai"), and activities ("energemata").

In some way, those three signs of the Spirit come together in one of the stories we celebrate when we remember the feast day of Philip the deacon and evangelist. While traveling on a wilderness road, Philip follows the Spirit's prompting and overhears a eunuch from Ethiopia speaking words from the Suffering Servant passages in Isaiah. From the perspective of a eunuch, it is a poignant passage: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth." How this story must have sounded like his own. Different; the butt of jokes; future offspring denied; one emasculated among the powerful.

Gently Philip tells the story of the crucified One from God. New wine. The eunuch's Spirit is touched. "Look here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?"

That is a moment of decision for Philip. The old wineskin would have said, alas, you cannot be baptized. You are not whole. The Torah forbids someone like you from being "admitted to the assembly of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 23:1) But that is not what Philip does. Philip, filled with the Spirit of the new wine from Jesus, baptizes the eunuch, making him part of the new assembly, the Church.

One of the stunning characteristics of the new wine of the Spirit that Jesus gives to us is the gift of willingness to recognize and bless the presence of faith and the full humanity of those have been marginalized and condemned as unclean or as sinners by the old religious traditions from the past. The gifts ("charismata") of such a Spirit inspire service ("diakoniai") and activity ("energemata") that blesses and restores those who formerly were shunned, like the bleeding woman, the corpse, and the eunuch.

Stories like these are another defense for the full inclusion of our gay brothers and sisters in the life of the church. When we see the faith and hope of these suffering servants, who, in the name of the old wine, have been victimized and marginalized and treated as unclean and different for so many centuries, how can we not be moved to compassion and hospitality as we have seen in the examples of Jesus and Philip.

Oh yes, there is some fabric-tearing when this new cloth of compassion is attached to the old laws of exclusion, and there is some wineskin bursting when we try to pour this lively new wine into some dry, stretched old containers. But God always provides the new and beautiful raiment and fresh, open wineskins for the new work of the Spirit.

Lowell

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