Thursday, February 11, 2010

Paul's Ethic

Thursday, February 11, 2010 -- Week of 5 Epiphany, Year Two
Frances Jane (Fanny) Van Alstyne Crosby, Hymnwriter, 1915

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 947)
Psalms [83] or 146, 147 (morning) 85, 86 (evening)
Genesis 27:30-45
Romans 12:9-12
John 8:21-32

First, a note about today's observance from Holy Women, Holy Men:
Crosby, Frances Jane (Fanny) Van Alstyne [1829-February 12, 1915] American hymn-writer. Having lost her eyesight in infancy, she was educated at the Institute for the Blind in NY, then became an instructor there. She worked closely with Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey. She wrote over 9,000 hymns, including Blessed Assurance, under her maiden name, Fanny Crosby. (Feb 11)

Several phrases from today's reading from Romans show up in an ancient blessing that I often use at the end of our Eucharists:

Go forth into the world in peace.
Be of good courage.
Hold fast to that which is good;
render to no one evil for evil.
Strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak;
help the afflicted; honor all persons.
Love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit,
and the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be with you and remain with you always.

This blessing has a special resonance for me because it was the characteristic blessing given by my bishop in Mississippi, Duncan M. Gray, Jr., who is for me a model of Christian living and leadership. Some years ago Will Campbell wrote a book that was largely biographical about Duncan Gray -- And Also With You -- and Will used this blessing as the chapter outline. The book is the story of Duncan's courage in the days of segregation, particularly when he was rector of my home parish in Oxford, Mississippi. It was a time of great fear and conflict, as our culture felt challenged and threatened by the claims of equality from our black neighbors.

St. Paul's guidance is worth re-reading (and actively typing):
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. (note: other manuscripts read this passage as "serve the opportune time") Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

A sound and fundamental ethic of life could be built from these admonitions.

Paul goes on to offer some commentary on the complicated business of living in a world of conflict and disagreement:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; (again, there is an interesting alternative reading: "give yourself to humble tasks"); do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' No, 'if you enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I wonder how different the history of this past decade might have been had our nation followed this moral outline rather than the choices we made. The Hebrew Scripture makes it clear that God reserves vengeance as a Divine prerogative. Human beings do not have the wisdom or the means to administer vengeance without creating more injustice.

What if our instinctive reaction to evil and violence were to overcome evil with good, to seek to know what hurt or anger has motivated the evil action, to bring food and drink and understanding to bear rather than more violence in the ever widening cycles of violence and revenge? I'm reminded of the statement from C. S. Chesterton: "The problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting, but that it has not been tried."


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
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

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

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 12:03 PM, Blogger Jane said...

I have been using the prayer for enemies from the Book of Common Prayer as a way of trying to stay centered in my heart on this way of life.

At 3:47 PM, Blogger Bill Fulton said...

Thanks for providing Bishop Gray's blessing, Lowell. I've been looking for it because I think it's quite lovely.

At 12:21 AM, Anonymous janetlgraige said...

I used to read St. Paul's words differently - with more of a feminist slant, I guess. Somehow I can be closer to them now, and just melt into (most of) them. How good is this daily office - for the opening of our souls. How good is this edifying language - to build up our souls.

And I sometimes ponder, what if there were 50 spiritual centered people praying and living faithful lives in each city, what if there were 30, and what if there were just 10..

And I think of Thomas Merton, who said the whole world would have ended, had not those in the monasteries been continually in prayer.

Would that I would be one of those faithful ones, and when I can't be, that another would be... and that the tide would turn soon toward peace.

Lovely blessing, thank you, I need that at least weekly!


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