The Gift and Goal
Thursday, January 31, 2008 -- Week of 3 Epiphany, Year 2
Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 945)
Psalms 50 (morning) [59, 60] or 118 (evening)
Genesis 16:15 - 17:14
There is an idea articulated in Hebrews today that is also present in Paul's theology. It has to do with the way we are called to grow into the fullness of Christ and to mature in our relationship with God.
Hebrews is largely a discourse of argument. The writer sets up what for his contemporaries is the established tradition in current religious practice and thought. Then he says, in effect, "If that old way was valid, this new way is so much more so."
Today's chapter goes to the heart of something that was also important to Paul. Here's how Hebrews imagines it. The old covenant gave us a law so that we would be conscious of right and wrong, especially so we would have a consciousness of sin. The old covenant gave us a perpetual practice of animal sacrifice and an annual event of atonement to accomplish the forgiveness of our sins. But those sacrifices must be performed over and over, renewed daily. They do not permanently accomplish our sanctification. They are limited -- finite.
But Christ, Hebrews argues, offered himself once in a perfect sacrifice, taking away permanently the sin of the world. Having completed the one act of atonement, Jesus now sits at the right hand of God making intercession for us as our great High Priest. The sacrifice of Jesus has completed everything that is needed, rendering unnecessary the continued activities of the Temple priests and their sacrifices.
Just as those sacrifices have been trumped and rendered obsolete, he argues, so the law and its purpose as our consciousness-raiser has been made superfluous. Since Christ, the great High Priest has come and finished the reconciliation between God and humanity, all that is necessary of us is our faith in the accomplished work of Christ. We are called to persevere in our faith in Christ.
When we do so, we no longer need the list of laws, because, as the prophets foretold, God has put God's laws in our hearts and has written them in our minds. And God will forgot our former lawlessness. When we live in Christ, we don't need the law as our guide, we have Christ as our guide. ("What Would Jesus Do?") The Spirit lives in us, and we live in the Spirit.
And that is what we do. We live by faith and follow the inner intuition and guidance of Jesus. The expectation is that we will therefore know what to do and do it. Hebrews is so sure of this that the author in one place expects that we will completely triumph over our former condition and sin no more. There is no need for further confession and forgiveness, and (in one verse, he says) no real possibility for further forgiveness. How can you sin when you have received so great a gift?
Paul imagines a similar scenario. We live in Christ, liberated from the law, and grace is our guide. He fully expects our sanctification in Christ so that we live mature lives, free from greed and sin.
That may sound a little intimidating, if you are as conscious of your sin and imperfection as I am, but there is hope. I know people who live in a conscious state of union with God, and who are so conformed to Christ in their relationship with the Divine that they do not sin. They instinctively live in that state that Hebrews and Paul imagines -- our hearts and our minds dwelling in Christ and Christ dwelling in us.
That is our goal. That is also God's gift to us.
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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
Lowell Grisham, Rector