Thursday, December 13, 2007

Conflicts

Thursday, December 13, 2007 -- Week of 2 Advent (Year 2)

"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 (Book of Common Prayer, p 937)
Psalms 37:1-18 (morning) 37:19-42 (evening)
Amos 9:1-10
Revelation 2:8-17
Matthew 23:13-26

Our readings today are full of conflict.

Amos writes his fiercest judgment. No one shall escape. And in a striking passage, he speaks in God's name that every nation has been guided by God in their migrations into their homelands just like Israel. But for Amos God's focus of judgment is upon Israel.

We get a peek at some of the conflicts and issues that faced the early Church through John's words to the churches of Smyrna and Pergamum. John speaks as a Jew when he sympathizes with those in Smyrna who have been probably been expelled from the synagogue for their allegiance to Jesus as Messiah. Such an ouster would make them vulnerable to Roman attention as a new religion without the privileges enjoyed by Judaism which the Romans acknowledged as a religion older than their own. John anticipates trouble for the congregation in Smyrna.

Pergamum is a dramatic city on the top of a mountain that dominates its region. A dramatic 2nd century BCE shrine to Zeus once occupied a stunning place on the hill, and Augustus converted it to his imperial cult worship. That may be the meaning of the reference to "Satan's throne." John recalls a martyr of Pergamum, Antipas. He also raises the issue of food sacrificed to idols. Nearly all meat sold at the public market would have been dedicated to a god when it was butchered. John scolds those "who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people... so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols." John expects the church to abstain from such meats and condemns those who teach otherwise.

Paul is one of those who fell on the other side of this issue. Paul said to the Corinthians that it doesn't matter if you eat the meat, because the gods of the idols do not exist. Paul's only caution was a warning not to violate the conscience or scruples of those who might be offended because they are superstitious enough to believe that the gods exist. Do not eat if their conscience might be troubled. Paul is one of those that John says holds "to the teaching of Balaam." Eating meat from the public market was a significant and divisive issue for the early church, and we have two New Testament authors taking opposite positions on the subject.

And the woes from Matthew's gospel speak to the religious definitions and regulations that serious observers of the law debated in order to practice complete obedience.

Jesus ridicules the rules over binding and non-binding oaths. Elsewhere Jesus teaches his followers not to swear at all, but simply tell the truth and let your "Yes" be yes and your "No" be no. Jesus also criticizes the scrupulous attention to some laws of tithing while one neglects "the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith." Some have called Jesus' practice a "natural spirituality," one grounded in the highest ideals, ultimately grounded in loving compassion, rather than a detailed objective spirituality.

Many of these same conflicts live in the church today and in the disagreements between faiths. Twenty centuries and we haven't solved them.

I prefer the encouraging New Testament example that we have over a passionate and divisive issue -- the sacrifice of meat to idols. John and Paul come down on different sides of the issue. Passionately. Both traditions are retained in our Biblical witness. John's Revelation is not expelled because he disagrees with Paul; Paul does not withdraw because he disagrees with John. They live together in some degree of tension within the bindings of the Book. Paul's advice for these circumstances seems compelling. "Let all be fully convinced in their own minds." Follow your conscience, and what you do, do in honor of the Lord. (Romans 14 5f) No need to break or divide the community. We can come to different conclusions in good conscience, and live together nonetheless.

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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We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

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