Friday, October 19, 2007

Witnesses

Friday, October 19, 2007 -- Week of Proper 23
(Henry Martyn; Priest, and Missionary to India and Persia, 1812)

"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. 988)
Psalms 16, 17 (morning) 22 (evening)
Jeremiah 38:14-28
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Matthew 11:1-6

Our readings today narrate three dramatic witnesses.

First we see the prophet Jeremiah in a secret consult with King Zedekiah. Surrender to the Babylonians and you and Jerusalem will be spared, Jeremiah tells the king. This was the treasonous message that earlier caused Jeremiah to be thrown into a cistern to die. We will see tomorrow that Zedekiah did not take Jeremiah's advice, but tried to solve the problems his own ways, to a tragic end. The Biblical witness is a reminder how often in history we ignore the witness and word of the prophets. They usually tell us things we don't want to hear.

Next we read one of the earliest summaries of the Christian proclamation. Paul is our earliest New Testament writer (c. 50-67 CE). He offers a summary of the teaching that he had received. It follows the same structure as the passion stories of Mark and the others -- Jesus died, was buried, raised, and appeared. Paul adds that this was all in accordance with the Scriptures -- God was at work in these events.

This passage is unique in that it is the first written account to chronicle a series of resurrection appearances of the risen Jesus -- first "to Cephas (Peter), 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." There is no other account of an appearance to more than five hundred. The mention of James is also unique, but it helps explain how James, the brother of our Lord, otherwise not mentioned as a disciple during Jesus' earthly ministry, became the first leader of the Jerusalem church.

Finally we read of Jesus' word to John the Baptist. John has been placed in prison. He had prophesied that Jesus was the expected one sent from God. But his expectations followed the conventional belief that the Messiah would be a powerful military leader and judge, restoring Israel to autonomy and political significance. Now John begins to doubt. Jesus is doing none of these expected Messianic tasks. He sends from prison to ask, "Are you the one...?"

Jesus sends John an answer that speaks of a different kind of Messiah. Using words John would recognize from Isaiah, words of hope for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, he tells the messengers to report back to John what they see: "the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them." This is the mission of the Messiah, says Jesus. "Blessed is anyone who is not scandalized by this."

Jesus' message might not have been what John wanted to hear. He was hoping for a fierce Messiah whose winnowing fork and fire would separate wheat and chaff. We don't know if he was more satisfied with this answer than Zedekiah was with Jeremiah's word. John died before the rest of Jesus' story. His doubts would have been confirmed on Good Friday. Messiahs don't get crucified, he would have thought.

But God does the new and unexpected. God raised Jesus and he appeared to many. Those witnesses passed on the story. It really is God's mission that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers be cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise, and the poor receive good news. That's the agenda of Jesus. That's our calling also.

Lowell
____________________


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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
St
.
Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, AR

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

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