Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Turn! Turn! Turn!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010 -- Week of Proper 4, Year Two
Blandina and Her Companions, the Martyrs of Lyons, 177

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 969)
Psalms 119:49-72 (morning)       49, [53] (evening)
Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
Galatians 2:11-21
Matthew 14:1-12

We read today the best known passage in Ecclesiastes.  "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  a time to be born, and a time to die..."  People from my generation (and later?) hear the sounds of the Byrd's song from the 1960's, Turn! Turn! Turn! -- "To everything (Turn, Turn Turn); there is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn); and a time to every purpose, under heaven..."  The punch line was an anti-war sentiment.  The song ends with the words, "A time for love, a time for hate; a time for peace, I swear it's not too late."  The song was written by Pete Seeger.

For the Teacher, the voice of Ecclesiastes, the poem is a moment of comfort, implying that there is an appropriate time for all human endeavor.  But the succeeding prose commentary says there is no way that we humans can know when those times are or use them to our benefit.  We can know nothing of God's intentions, says the Teacher.  The best we can do is be happy -- eat, drink, enjoy your toil.  Only God knows the past, the present, and the future.  Underneath the fatalism, is a deep acceptance, and a willingness toward contentment within the confines of our human limits.

In our Gospel, we get a sordid story of our human limits, and our penchant for tragedy and injustice.  John the Baptist may have been the first prophet for Israel in 500 years.  His preaching and baptizing inspired a significant following, including Jesus.  John was imprisoned by Herod Antipas.  The historian Josephus says Herod arrested John because he saw John as a threat or challenge to Herod's authority.  The Gospels say that John condemned Herod's incestual marriage to Herodius.  Herod had divorced his wife Phasaelis, the daughter of King Aretas IV of Nabatea, and married his half-brother Phillip's wife Herodius.  (Both of her husbands were her uncles.)  The marriage provoked a war with King Aretas that proved disastrous for Herod.  Josephus says that Herod blamed John for his defeat.

We read Matthew's story today of Herod's execution of John, as a rash favor for the dancing of his step-daughter.  It is a sad story of capricious violence and the tyranny of abusive power.  "A time to mourn, and a time to dance..." says the Teacher.

Dom Crossan makes an interesting argument.  "John had a monopoly, but Jesus had a franchise," says Crossan.  To be baptized in John's tradition, you had to go to John.  He was the baptizer.  For Herod to stop his movement, he only had to kill John.  No more baptisms.  No more disciples.  But Jesus opened up baptism through the movement of the church.  Since the disciples of Jesus could baptize future disciples of Jesus, his movement continued after his execution. 

We get some flavor of the energy of that movement in our reading from Paul's letter to the Galatians today.  Paul is in a conflict with the conservative Jewish faction of the early Church.  Originally, Christianity was a reform movement within Judaism.  All its members were Jewish.  When Paul was converted, the power of his experience of the Risen Christ was his liberation from the anxiety of trying to follow the laws of the Torah.  (A form of performance anxiety.)  He gave up trying to be perfect according the the letter of the law and accepted his relationship with God as a gift -- the gift of acceptance.  He was "reckoned as righteous" by God -- justified.  His status was not earned and was not something he could earn through "works."  His status was a gift -- grace.  All that was necessary was to accept the gift -- faith.

There is a fascinating phrase here that can be translated two ways.  "We have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ" can also be translated "We have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by the faith of Christ."  Paul knows himself to be filled with the living Christ, no longer filled with the anxiety of trying to follow every law.  His trust can be described either as trust placed in Christ, or as the pattern of faithfulness Christ himself displayed before God, "the faith of Christ."

Gift, grace, acceptance, justification, righteousness, reconciliation with God.  In the movement of Jesus all of this was freely accessible.  Instead of Jesus' death ending this access, Jesus' death opens free access to all.  The church's experience of Jesus' continuing presence in the Spirit made this movement sustaining beyond his execution.  "A time to kill, and a time to heal," says the Teacher.  The killing of Jesus opens healing to all forever, says the Gospel.



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


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