Friday, April 11, 2008

Getting Distracted

Friday, April 11, 2008 -- -- Week of 3 Easter
(George Augustus Selwyn, Bishop of New Zealand, and of Lichfield, 1878)

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, page 961)
Psalms 105:1-22 (morning) 105:23-45 (evening)
Exodus 24:1-18
Colossians 2:8-23
Matthew 4:12-17

There is a caution today in Colossians. The author is writing about an unknown heresy or an early form of Christian or Jewish practice. We can only speculate about the nature of this competing philosophy from the descriptions we get from these complaints. It may have been some form of mystery religion, or less specifically, some religious threats from the general culture.

At issue were some claims that people should adore or worship some of the powers of the cosmos, "insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions," Colossians says. There were also claims involving ritual practices, such as "food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths." Although we have only a sideways glance at the conflict, it seems that the writer is troubled by some ascetic and ritualistic practices that are competing in some way with Christ-centered worship.

It is easy for the church today to become distracted by lesser things. Our practice and theology has evolved. We have many things that intend to enhance our relationship with God in Christ and to deepen our faith. But when they become objects of our exaggerated concern above and beyond their intention to point to the divine and draw us nearer into union with God and one another, they can become distractions and even divisive.

I served a church earlier in my ministry which was the most focused and intentional worshiping community I have ever lived in. You could feel the energy of their worship in their liturgy. But that was also the fault line whenever they fell into squabbles or disagreements. Every congregational fight seemed to go back to how we worshiped. Sometimes people became so focused on doing worship "right," that it became a performance sport instead of an expression of adoration of God.

Whole branches of the Christian faith have made the bible the object of their faith rather than a lens through which we approach the mysterious and holy God. They will insist that followers believe exaggerated things because of their particular reading and interpretation of scripture, sometimes turning off their hearts or minds in the name of the Bible.

Most of us most of the time find that ritual and scripture, prayer and study are the foundations of our relationship with God and our understanding of ourselves as a people. Our dedication to a rule of life or to forms of religious practice support our intention to turn to Christ; our reading of scripture forms our minds and hearts with the story of God's people in relationship with God.

But it is easy to get distracted about the accoutrements of religion and be deflected from the focus of religion; it is easy to make "human commands and teachings" absolute. Only God is absolute.

It is helpful sometimes to be discerning. What piety and traditions draw us closer into communion with God? What practices and teachings enhance our duty to love our neighbor as ourselves? When do we let the things of faith divide and distract us from God and one another?


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

2 Comments:

At 11:13 AM, Blogger The Underground Pewster said...

What practices draw us closer into communion?
In my morning meditation today I asked for help in staying focused on God's message rather than the message of man, for help is discerning God's presence in other men, and for help in revealing God's presence through my life and work. Hardly a traditional Morning Prayer service, but we need traditional prayers and services to keep us grounded, lest in private meditation and prayer we deceive ourselves.

 
At 7:57 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Dear UP,

I like your focus. The disciplines and practices that we use as rituals are intended to recall our mindfulness and conscious connection with God so that we can live in conscious union with God. From that perspective, we are more awake to love our neighbor as ourselves. That's really about all there is to it.

Lowell

 

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