Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Renewal and Reform

Tuesday, October 9, 2007 -- Week of Proper 22
(Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, 1253)

"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 (p. 986)
Psalms [120], 121, 122, 123 (morning) 124, 125, 126, [127] (evening)
2 Kings 22:1-13
1 Corinthians 11:2, 17-22
Matthew 9:1-8

Mannasseh is believed to have reigned longer than any king of Israel or Judah, for over a half-century during the 600's. He was reputed to have reversed many of the reforms of Hezekiah, restoring the syncretistic worship of Canaanite and other gods. His son Amon succeeded to the throne, but was assassinated after only two years. Amon's son Josiah was named king. Since he was only eight years old, his mother Jedidah exercised significant authority, presumably along with "the people of the land" who killed the participants in the plot that removed Amon.

Luck was with the young king Josiah. Assyria was in decline; Egypt was recovering from the Assyrian wars; Babylon had not yet risen as the new empire. There was a significant period of time when Judah was able to govern its own land without outside interference.

In the eighteenth year of his reign (c. 622/620 BCE), Josiah initiated a thorough religious reform, reasserting the worship of YHWH alone. He authorized the repair and upgrade of the Temple. During the construction, the high priest Hilkiah found a previously lost scroll of the Torah. Scholars believe the scroll to be the book of Deuteronomy. (Some scholars believe the scroll may have been written at the time of Josiah to promote his reforms.) The writing was brought to the king who had it read aloud to him. King Josiah's reaction was one of great repentance and distress, because the people had not kept this law of God. He believed them to be vulnerable to divine punishment for their failure. The reform of Josiah proceeded with great vigor.

Imagine the drama. What if archeologists found the tomb of the apostle Paul and there discovered an unknown manuscript -- maybe of one of his letters; or better still, an unknown gospel dating from the time of Paul. What if the writing revealed that the teaching and practice of the faith had significant differences from what we have been teaching and practicing. What might happen?

Josiah led a reform of Judaism in accordance with the prescriptions given in the book of Deuteronomy. It was a significant period of renewal.

Usually when we attempt reform, we try to rekindle a vision of the way it should have been from the beginning. We look at our sources and re-vision a new way of going forward that will change some patterns that we disagree with and institute new ways that are faithful to a new understanding of the old.

The 16th century reformation attempted to strip away ecclesial accretions and restore Christian practice based on a new reading of scripture. Every time a church separates from its source, it claims to have rediscovered the "true" intent of Christ.

In some sense, our faith is continually renewed and challenged by new interpretations of old truths. One of the most challenging renewal events in recent history was the abolitionist movement of the 19th century. Anti-slavery reformers and preachers looked to the ideals of the scripture and imagined an expanded, universal freedom as they challenged the institution of slavery. Pro-slavery traditionalists and preachers had an easy time showing the presence of slavery as a normal part of ancient culture throughout Biblical times. Jesus did not speak against it; the law and both Testaments presume its presence, and even give instruction about the just administration of master-slave relationships.

Reforms are challenging. Josiah's reform took many years and caused great conflict. Sadly, just as he had reestablished a form of faithfulness that most of his Jewish descendants would applaud, he died in battle and international events began a terrible motion toward the destruction of Jerusalem and exile of the people.

The abolitionist movement contributed to a political divide in this nation that led to our most tragic war, a War Between the States. A century later we were still trying to deal with the promise of full and equal civil rights for the descendants of slaves.

Renewal and reform is a continuing characteristic of living religions and nations. What is God leading us toward in our lifetime?



At 1:34 PM, Blogger The Underground Pewster said...

Let us hope that we are not to a state of "continuous revolution" as espoused by Mao. http://www.answers.com/topic/continuous-revolution
Do you think Christian teaching would favor moving away from continuous revolution and towards peace, harmony, and the Kingdom of God?

At 1:35 PM, Blogger The Underground Pewster said...

I meant "led to" in the first sentence.

At 8:01 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Well, I don't know enough about Mao to understand what he had in mind, but the language I would use is that we are called to continuous conversion.

I like the lively dynamic inf the Benedictine tradition. Benedictine monks and nuns make three promises of stability, obedience, and conversion of life. I have made those promises within a community called "The Order of the Ascension," and they carry deep significance to me.

This is probably a whole lot more than you want, but I've copied and pasted below the section of our Rule that deals with conversion. The Rule is found at http://www.orderoftheascension.org/rule.htm

Conversion of Life

"God did not abolish the fact of evil. He transformed it. He did not stop the crucifixion. He rose from the dead." Dorothy Sayers

"See, understand, enjoy, said the Gnostic,. repent, believe, love, said the Church, and if you see anything by the way, say so." Charles Williams

"I ....have the impression that God knows the importance of humility for man. He knows our weakness, our pride, and. ..He purposely sets in our path each day four or five humiliations, and in the course of our life, four or five great humiliations. If we do not comprehend them, if we do not accept them, it is a serious matter. But if we accept them, then we learn the generosity of God." Helder Camara

"The total gift of one's being and of one's whole life is the will to live and work with Christ. which also means to suffer and to die with him in that terrible death from which the life of grace issues forth for humanity." Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein)

"The new person is like a garment made to cover the individual believer. ..It is impossible to become a new person as a solitary individual. The new person is not the individual believer after he has been justified and sanctified, but the Christian community, the Body of Christ, Christ himself Dietrich Bonhoeffer

To be part of the Order, indeed to be baptized, is to be committed to transformation. The vows of baptism and of this community are toward the transformation of our own life, our relationships, our families, this society. We know ourselves to be "strangers and exiles on the earth. ..seeking a homeland. ..a better country." (Hebrews 11:13-16)

It is in the context of stability and obedience that we are confronted with demands and pressures calling us forward into an encounter with ourselves. The struggle in the world and the struggle in our soul is one struggle. In that struggle, a deeper inner stillness is to be discovered as a gift, a gift of the kingdom of God. in solitude we can see what our good Lord offers us.

We look for an awareness of God's presence in this new place. The parish changes, our bodies begin to change, the wider Church renews and is different, a friend moves, new ways come to the Order--we face continuous change.

We pray for an openness to the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church and ourselves--an openness to change in the Church and in the Order. an openness to joy. So in that joy we "press on for what lies ahead" (Philippians 3:13). We seek to live in the trust that God is in the new place.

We may open ourselves to this life-long process of transformation in many ways. Among those ways are:

A giving of ourselves to the present, to today's demands and possibilities; striving to take practical action here and now.

A living with our own death before us. Possibly using the pastoral offices related to illness and death as sources of meditation, praying for an openness to death and resurrection. We seek silence and solitude so we might know our loneliness, learn to depend on God and find a way to be with ourselves. We listen to the advice of St. Benedict to "keep your own death before your eyes each day ." In this we are prepared for ministry, and to open ourselves to a deeper and larger life.

A responsible preparation for the future; striving, with others, for vision and for the sense of direction and plans to act upon that vision. Learning the skills and knowledge we need for the task.

A commitment to our own maturity. Pursuing and opening ourselves to maturity in faith and practice, maturity in our emotional life, and maturity in our competence to perform the "work we have been given to do." Seeking to accept responsibility and take action so we might console, understand and love rather than grasp, blame, and nurture our projections upon others.

Praying that our good Lord will use the Order as we are, with whatever love, gifts, skills or weakness we have. Ours is a task to offer what we have to offer; now, in the concrete, immediate situation in which we live. Praying that we will be relieved of any futile grasping to protect ourselves, and of anxious attempts to ensure a future existence for the Order. It is God's business to decide how long we will be of use.

Each Professed member is encouraged to find some specific means to respond to the "Reign of God as justice and peace." This may include associating ourselves with at least one group striving for justice and peace in our world.

At 8:20 AM, Blogger The Underground Pewster said...

Cool, may I copy this for our a couple of our groups at church (the new prayer/meditation group and the Sunday school class studying Benedict)?

At 7:47 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Dear Underground Pewster:

Yes, absolutely. Please feel free to use any of the material from the OA Rule.

And have fun studying Benedict. He's got some sane spirituality.

BTW -- I really like Joan Chittister's "Wisdom Distilled from the Daily" for reflections on Benedict's Rule.



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