Monday, March 10, 2008

Threats

Monday, March 10, 2008 -- Week of 5 Lent

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 957)
Psalms 31 (morning) 35 (evening)
Exodus 4:10-20(21-26)27-30
1 Corinthians 14:1-19
Mark 9:30-41

There is a fascinating story in our reading from Exodus today. It comes to us only in a fragment. We don't have the context of the original story to help interpret it. Apparently the Biblical editors included it here in connection with the mention of the firstborn son of Pharaoh who will be killed at Passover.

The story begins, "On the way, at a place where they spent the night, the Lord met (Moses) and tried to kill him." Moses' wife Zipporah saves Moses by circumcising their son and touching Moses' genitals with it, saying, "Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!"

Why does God attack Moses, the one whom he has called for a special mission? There is no explanation. But there are some other similar stories elsewhere in the Hebrew scriptures. Jacob wrestled with God all night, holding on desperately until near dawn, when he was blessed and injured. Balaam the prophet would have been struck down by the angel of the Lord except that the donkey he was riding saw the angel and turned off the road. There is a moment in the Joshua saga when he sees an armed man standing before him and Joshua challenges the man; it is the commander of the army of God, and Joshua falls down before him in worship. There are several divine attacks upon the people of Israel, including a plague in the wilderness and the visit of the angel of the Lord in Bochim cursing Israel for failing to drive out the Canaanites.

It seems that one of the characteristics that sometimes accompanies a sense of calling from God is an accompanying sense of threat or attack from God. We can feel ourselves to be both obeying God and attacked by God. The fear of following God and the fear of not following God can be closely related. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel, says Paul. Let this cup pass from me, says Jesus, sweating blood. Sometimes the path of obedience can seem like the choice between two threats. Sometimes we must fight and wrestle with God before we can survive to do what we must.
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In the passage from Mark's gospel, we have Jesus offering to the disciples the example of a weak and vulnerable child as a response to their argument about greatness. He challenges them to welcome such powerlessness, for Jesus comes as the powerless divine son who is crucified. To welcome and serve such a one is to welcome and serve Jesus.

Then the disciples tell how they tried to stop a rival exorcist casting out demons using Jesus' name. The disciples challenged him "because he was not following us." Jesus scolds them. "Do not stop him." Jesus urges their generosity toward others who are trying to do good. "Whoever is not against us is for us."

How much healthier the church might be if we could internalize the teachings of Mark 9. Instead of seeking power, the church would be the servant community, willing to embrace powerlessness and support the weak and vulnerable. Instead of claiming religious monopolies, we would bless and identify with all who are not against us, even when they are not following us and our way.

There is a tension within the gospels. In Mark, the earliest Gospel, we have this word from Jesus, "Whoever is not against us is for us." But in Matthew and Luke, a parallel saying reads, "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters" ( Mt. 12:32; Lk. 11:23)

Throughout the New Testament there is a tendency for the older texts to be more conflicted with those who might be seen as religious competitors. As best we can tell, the Jesus of history is gracious and welcoming to the other, the foreigners and non-Jews; women and the un-clean. Mark's gospel, the earliest, has a very open spirit toward gentiles and outsiders. The later gospel of Matthew is much more protective of the church and its institutions. By the time of the late gospel of John, the separation from the synagogue is accomplished and "the Jews" becomes a synonym for the enemy. Paul's church has an egalitarian flair that lets women and slaves be on the same footing as men and free persons. But the later Pastoral epistles of Timothy and Titus back away from Paul's egalitarian tradition.

Maybe there is a connection between the stories of feeling threatened by God and the defensiveness we see in parts of the New Testament. When we feel vulnerable or afraid, we easily become threatened and react with defensiveness and aggression. Sometimes the fight is our struggle to follow. Ultimately we see that God is present in the all -- in the call and the threat. If we hold on, we can eventually relax our hold and our defensiveness, and be willing to become vulnerable servants like Jesus. We can accept even rivals who are not following us, and live more charitably in the spirit that accepts, "Whoever is not against us is for us."

Lowell
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Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
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


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

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas

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