Monday, March 22, 2010

Bushes Burning in the Desert

Monday, March 22, 2010 -- Week of 5 Lent, Year Two
James De Koven, Priest, 1879

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 957)
Psalms 31 (morning)       35 (evening)
Exodus 4:10-20(21-26)27-30
2 Corinthians 2:14-19 
Mark 9:30-41

We had long delays in Atlanta on our return trip from the Holy Land pilgrimage.  Some reservations had been fouled up and five of our group did not have tickets for the Atlanta to Northwest Arkansas leg of the trip, and the plane was already overbooked.  One person made it on, and four had to spend the night in Atlanta.  They are on their way back this morning, we hope.  As it was, the rest of us got into XNA after midnight.  A LONG day's trip home.  (I didn't count; nearly 30 hours.)

A phone call woke me at 8:00, so I am trying to get back on local time by starting my morning routine of the Daily Office and writing a reflection on the readings.  My mind is a little fuzzy though.

As I read today's scriptures, my mind is filled however, with new, and very vivid images of the land where these stories take place.  Psalm 31 came vividly alive in a new way, especially the line "Blessed be God!  For you have shown me your love in a city under siege."  We visited so many of these cities "under siege," looking at the foundations of their stone walls, seeing their gates, hearing the stories of their sieges, looking into the vast cisterns intended to supply water in a dry land and during sieges that could last for years, and imagining the horror of being walled in, threatened, and even breached by attacking armies. 
How powerful the words sound when someone can say "Blessed be God!" for having seen wonders of God's love in such a city under siege.  The next verse is this:  "Yet I said in my alarm, 'I have been cut off from the sight of you eyes.'  Nevertheless, you heard the sound of my entreaty when I cried out to you.  Love God, all you who worship God; God protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily.  Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for God."  I could imagine peace and trust descending upon the psalmist, renewing his strength and courage as he waits for God "in a city under siege."  It is a powerful image for our own renewal of strength and courage whenever we wait beneath whatever may besiege or threaten us." 

I'm also excited to be reading about Moses' encounter with the burning bush, having just returned from St. Katherine's Monastery, one of the traditional locations of Moses encounter with God.  Something happened to Moses in this hard, mountainous region, and he returned to Egypt with God's commission to lead his people out of bondage.  What different places -- Ancient Egypt and this rugged desert.  The fertile Nile Valley grows lush and green, tucked within a sharp dividing line between the vast Sahara sands and the verdant flooded plains that nurtured centuries of powerful and magnificent dynasties of pharaohs.  The desert monastery had a plant it says is the one where Moses stopped.  It is a desert bramble shrub, Rubus sanctus, a thorned rugged modest plant that lives in places where water happens in the wilderness.  From that modest shrub, Moses gained the strength to return to the city of the pyramids and face down Rameses II, whose monumental statues and structures seem mountainlike themselves.  Moses complains he is not up to the task, no wonder!  But God convinces him that God's presence and power will be enough.  What trust and renewal of strength and courage must it have taken for Moses to accept that calling.

Paul takes the story of the giving of the law to Moses, a law chiseled in letters on stone tablets, and tells us the greater glory that is ours with the Spirit of freedom that is ours in the glory of God which we see with unveiled faces as reflected in the face of Jesus, which transforms us "into the same image from one degree of glory to another."  If Moses could be so confident in the revelation "chiseled in letters on stone tablets," how much more confident can we be in the letter of the Spirit which makes us "competent to be ministers of a new covenant." 

We see how this new confidence is made competent in the new covenant in the graceful story in Mark.  Under the shadow of the approaching passion, Jesus gathers his disciples "to Capernaum; and when he was in the house" he showed them the essence of the glory of this new freedom in Spirit that is ours:  "Whoever want to be first must be last of all and servant of all."  And Jesus confirmed that teaching by taking a child into his arms of welcome.  To welcome any child is to welcome Christ.  (On our trip, we saw the outline of the stones this house, and the room that has been honored since early days as Jesus' room in Peter's home in Capernaum.)

The disciples then want to ask Jesus a question of jurisdiction or power or authority or boundary:  "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us."  Doesn't that sound like the church?  Jesus opens the boundaries wide:  "Whoever is not against us is for us." 

Then he uses a powerful metaphor from desert hospitality and Middle Eastern custom.  "Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward."  It is the rule of the desert, a custom that has planted itself into the ethos of the Middle East -- if someone ask you for water, you give them water.  You are to give water to a stranger.  The giving and receiving of water is itself a pledge of friendship for a time.  On our trip we heard amazing stories of hospitality to strangers as part of that norm of the Middle East. 

Jesus invites us into a renewal of our strength and courage.  In a dangerous world under siege, we are called to love God and to accept our new calling as servants of all, humbly accepting those who may not follow us, affirming any who may nevertheless give a cup of water under other rules of hospitality.

As we landed on the XNA tarmac early this morning, those with I-Phones announced that the House of Representatives had passed the health reform bill last night, a cup of water for more than thirty million who have had been besieged behind the walls of lacking insurance.  A new welcome to those who have been the outcasts in our medical system, so many of them children, who have waited in hope for so long.  Thanks to those who had Moses-like perseverance to face down the entrenched status of privilege and power in order to open up the profession of medical servanthood to more.  Not all, yet.  But more.  In the desert, a bush burns again, with hope and courage for our continued call to love and to serve our neighbor, whom Jesus taught us is anyone in need.

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

4 Comments:

At 11:20 AM, Blogger HumbleHumanity said...

A glass of water is about all it will be worth, similar to Canada. You see, Lowell, when you have only 1 glass of water, and now it has to be shared with more people, it will not magically grow more water. Who will now decide where the water goes? Obama and his appointees. Nice. I'm glad you trust in him. I, however, trust in the Name of the Lord our God. In Him I place my trust.
Yet another sad day for those who trust in government. Good luck with that.

 
At 11:58 AM, Anonymous janetlgraige said...

Lowell,

Powerful reflection this morning. Glad you've returned to our little corner of the world.

Peace, Janet

 
At 1:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doomsday! How will we ever survive the tendancy to expand health insurance coverage to the those needing medical care and can't get insurance? There's never enough to go around, many say. While I have mine, all is well. Why should I be asked to share? Oh, woe is me. The sky will fall.

I'm a recipient of Medicare. I have enough to be able to pay extra on my unearned income. I'm more than happy to do that.

 
At 1:14 AM, Blogger HumbleHumanity said...

I bogles the mind how anonymous, and the like, always brag about their willingness to give more of their own, indicated they haven't, while accusing me, and they like, of wanting the uninsured to die in a ditch without healthcare.
Sir, i suggest you talk with Lowell. He has indicated to me that there is a woman in his congregation who works at the university who could use your extra money. Now you could give her your extra, or you can give it to Obama, he will pay a number his well insured employees and this unfortunate lady will get a pat on the back and a foot to her backside. Woe is she.

 

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