Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Promised Inheritance

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 -- Week of 3 Epiphany, Year Two
Timothy, Titus, and Silas, Companions of Saint Paul

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, 945)
Psalms 45 (morning) 47, 48 (evening
Genesis 15:1-11, 17-21
Hebrews 9:1-14
John 5:1-18

Abraham is called the "Father of Faith" because he believed that God would fulfill the divine promise to make his descendants like the stars and to give his descendants a land to call home. When Abraham trusted God's promise it seemed an unlikely future. Abraham and Sarah were old. She was barren and his heir was his household slave. Nevertheless Abraham trusted that God would find a way, and God reinforced the promise by making a covenant, binding God unilaterally to the promise God had made to Abraham.

Many centuries later, the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews connects the death and resurrection of Jesus to a new covenant that transcends and perfects the relationship of humanity and God. For centuries the people had offered daily sacrifices to petition God's blessing, and once a year, on the day of atonement, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies to sprinkle sacrificial blood on the altar for the purification of the sins of the flesh. Now a greater atonement has occurred. Jesus has become the Temple of God in his own body. He has given his own life as a sacrificial offering, and has entered the heavenly Temple to stay forever in the presence of God, sitting at God's right hand in the eternal Holy of Holies. With that final act of atonement, absolute and permanent forgiveness is established, and God's Spirit is released to liberate us for abundant life. We are forgiven, loved and free.

John's gospel gives us a story of one who is forgiven, loved and free. It is the story of a sick man who has lain by the pool of Bethzatha for thirty-eight years. What a symbol of habitual entrapment. Most of us have habits, addictions, behaviors, and histories that seem to compromise our freedom and health. When we have lived with these limitations for decades, they seem intractable.

Jesus asks the man by the pool, "Do you want to be made well?" It's a good question. He's used to his situation. It seems to work for him. He's lived that way for thirty-eight years. He doesn't have to work, or carry water, or cook or raise children. He hasn't made the effort to change his situation. Does he indeed want to be made well? In answer to Jesus' question, he just gives an excuse. I can't help it. Someone else always beats me into the water when the angel stirs it. According to legend, the first one in the water will be healed.

Jesus tells him to take responsibility for his life. "Stand up, take your mat and walk." The man could have continued to make the same excuses. "Stand up? How? I can't walk." But, with a faith like Abraham, he stood up, took his mat and walked.

Only now do we learn that this story happens on a Sabbath. It is against the Sabbath law, established in Scripture and interpreted through centuries of Rabbinical tradition, to carry a burden like a mat on the Sabbath. The healed man's act is a religious scandal. The religious authorities confront him. He passes the blame and informs on Jesus, setting in motion a fatal conflict.

Yet that fatal conflict is exactly what the writer to the Hebrews sees is the creation of the new covenant that frees us. Part of our freedom is a liberation from religious laws and traditions that limit love and freedom. We are to believe like Abraham that Jesus has opened to us our access to unlimited divine forgiveness and unqualified love. We are invited to live in a new Spirit of an intimate relationship with God through the Son. If there is ever a conflict between law and love, between tradition and life, between custom and freedom, we are to choose love, life and freedom because they are already our inheritance -- like the stars in the sky.


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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