Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Stand Firm

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 -- Week of 2 Christmas, Year Two

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 941)

Morning Prayer
Psalms 2, 110:1-5(6-7)
Jonah 2:2-9
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 11:17-27, 38-44

Evening Prayer - Eve of Epiphany
Psalms 29, 98
Isaiah 66:18-23
Romans 15:7-13

The psalms today speak of a desire that is deep within the human heart, the desire for domination and even revenge, especially in the face of injustice and oppression. We want good to triumph and evil to be defeated. When we think on these things, our minds go naturally to power. We want to overcome power with more power. When an insignificant, clandestine little group a executed a plot to hijack some commercial jets and fly them into some symbolic buildings, we wanted to strike back. We felt like we needed to attack and defeat them, so we unleashed our power to destroy something, even if we weren't sure who or what to destroy.

Deep within the bones of the Hebrew scriptures is the desire that God strike back for us against the oppressors and give us domination and revenge against them. The King James Version carries the feeling of Psalm 2 better than modern translations: "Why do the heathen rage...?" God speaks in wrath and rage to defend God's monarch and people, says the psalmist. The writer imagines that God "shall crush them with an iron rod and shatter them like a piece of pottery." This is a messianic psalm. It speaks to the expectation of God's people. When Messiah comes, he will be a crushing iron rod who shatters the enemy like a piece of pottery. Psalm 110, another messianic psalm is more graphic. "The Ruler who is at your right hand will smite monarchs in the day of wrath and will rule over the nations; Will heap high the corpses and will smash heads over the wider earth."

No wonder so many were disappointed with the messiahship of Jesus. Like John the Baptist, they were expecting one whose ax would cut down and burn every tree that does not bear good fruit, whose winnowing fork would separate the wheat from the chaff and burn the latter with unquenchable fire. But that's not what Jesus did.

Our reading from Ephesians picks up some military imagery, but it does so without aggression. This early Christian letter urges God's people to be strong in the strength of God's power, but the stance it urges upon us is completely defensive. Put on God's armor to stand against the wiles of the enemy, "and having done everything, ...stand firm." No attack. To smiting back. We are told to stand, with the belt of truth around our waist, the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation and shoes of peace. Hold a shield of faith which will quench any "flaming arrows of the evil one." The only offensive weapon is "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." "The pen is mightier than the sword," some say. The only weapon the Christian is given is the Word of God.

Then the letter urges prayer. Pray for all the saints. Pray for the writer who is in chains, so that though imprisoned, he way speak boldly 'they mystery of the gospel." No crushing with iron rods; no shattering like a piece of pottery; no ax or winnowing fork or fire. Just words. The Word. Standing, not attacking. Praying.

Today's reading from John's Gospel tells the story of Jesus' greatest act of as Messiah, his most profound attack on evil and upon the enemy. Jesus prays to God, speaks the Word of God, and God raises Lazarus from the dead. From John's perspective, and his Gospel is very clear about this, it is the raising of Lazarus that provokes Jesus' enemies to plot to kill him. And they are successful. They exercise their power in oppressive, evil violence and crucify Jesus. But God raises Jesus from the dead, and triumphs over their evil. That's what God does, raises the dead to life by the power of God's Word.

How different might the history of Western civilization have been had Christians resisted the natural human urge to dominate and refused to solve problems with violence? What if we had trusted God's Word, words and prayer? I know some whose faith is so strong that they declare themselves as pacifists. I confess my faith is not so strong. But I yearn to be more faithful. And I am trying to learn to be more instinctively peaceful. Revenge, particularly, belongs to God. (Romans 12:19, Deuteronomy 32:35)

The reality that the scripture presents us is that God's Messiah is a peaceful Messiah. Christ's victory is final and total. There is nothing that can truly threaten and there is no need for our violence. We are to stand; protected by truth, faith and righteousness; walking in peace. Our only weapon is to be the Word -- speaking, writing, praying, but mostly healing and raising from the dead. That's what the Word does.

How different might the first decade of this century have been had our response been dominated by a desire to heal and to raise from the dead? What might we have done differently? What would Jesus as Ruler have done?


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


At 8:42 PM, Anonymous janet l graige said...

Hi Lowell,

Thanks for the lovely commentary.

Psalm 110 keeps coming up! I am awed by the verse "in the beauty of holiness have I begotten you, like dew from the womb of the morning" Can you suggest a good Psalter commentary for me to look at. I've seen a few notes for this psalm but am looking for something more. Anything in St. Paul's library?

Blessed Epiphany Eve to all,

At 8:39 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

I'll bet we've got a commentary (Anchor or others) in the Library. I find commentaries to be a bit tedious sometimes for things like psalms.

You might look for books about Praying the Psalms. Merton has one. So does Walter Brueggemann.


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