Friday, February 25, 2011

"We do not lose heart"

Friday, February 25, 2011 -- Week of 7 Epiphany, Year One
John Roberts, Priest, 1949
To read about our daily commemorations, go to our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 948)
Psalms 140, 142  (morning)       141, 143:1-11(12) (evening)
Ruth 3:1-18
2 Corinthians 4:1-12
Matthew 5:38-48

I am struck by the context in which Paul looks at his work and ministry, and also his difficulties and frustrations.  He focuses on the light that suffuses creation and sees that light as the presence of Christ.  He has died to his attachment to all else but Christ.  The light of Christ working in him is enough to cast out all darkness.

He finds himself in conflict with those who do not accept his teaching.  "By the open statement of the truth, " he says, "we commend our selves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God."  But not everyone's conscience accepts Paul's message.  We know there were those who could not imagine the incorporation of uncircumcised Gentiles into the community without their becoming like the original members, without their becoming Jewish.  We know there were those who were part of the church who had scruples about the purity or impurity of market meat that had been dedicated to the Greek gods.  To eat such meat was to worship those gods, they believed. 

For the former conflict, whether Gentiles must be circumcised, Paul refused to compromise.  This language in today's reading may reflect some of his meditation on that conflict.  Paul saw "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" in the Gentiles, and he saw death working through his opponents' insistence that converting Gentiles must follow the laws of the Torah.  Paul recognizes that his "gospel is veiled" to some.  They cannot see the same light that Paul sees; what Paul sees as light, they can only see as darkness.  He says it is "the god of this world" who "has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light."

In the latter conflict about meat dedicated to idols, Paul advised compromise.  If your conscience is not bothered, feel free to eat the consecrated meat.  But if you are at table with one whose conscience is offended (or weak, as he says), out of respect for them, forego exercising your freedom for that meal.  (1 Corinthians 10)  He counseled a similar approach over conflicts about the observation of sacred days.  "Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike.  Let all be fully convinced in their own minds."  Paul had his opinions, but on some things, he commended himself "to the conscience of everyone" and allowed that there is room for disagreement. 

It seems that Paul is able to see the light of Christ in people and in things that others see only as darkness.  Christ's light has broken down so many divisions.  Paul sees that light suffusing all creation.  But not everyone sees Christ's light as universally as Paul.  Paul allows for differences of conscience for those who cannot see Christ's light in some of the things of this world -- in meat sacrificed to other gods, in sabbath customs or other sacred observances of time. 

But Paul's back stiffens when people are unwilling to see that light in other people.  In Christ, human divisions, prejudices and hierarchies are overcome by the light that suffuses all.  "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for you are one in Christ Jesus."  (Galatians 3:28)  God's light has shined out of the darkness to enlighten all things, but especially to reveal light in all people.  You either see that or the "god of this world" has blinded you.  "For it is God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

It is a glorious vision.  A unifying light that infuses all humanity.  (Suzanne talked about this Sunday in her sermon illustration about her mother-in-law.) 

Yet we are also "clay jars."  Paul feels the frustration of one who has something precious that others oppose.  But his experience of this inner light of Christ is enough for his continued renewal and encouragement.  "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.  For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh."

Paul is able to accept frustration, even defeat, because he has abandoned dependence on his own performance -- he died to the performance-based righteousness of following the law -- he has accepted a new life that is a pure gift from God.  So it is all God.  It is all Christ.  It's not about him.  Christ's light has overcome all -- Paul's scruples, human divisions, finally death itself.  It is all filled with the light that shines out of darkness. 

Not everyone can see that, of course, so Paul lives with innumerable conflicts.  But "we do not lose heart."  Even though he feels his body weakening before these divisions can be reconciled, he knows "our inner nature is being renewed day by day."  He can see the light continuing to spread, even where others see only darkness.  "So that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God."  His comfort is "we can look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal."

I find these words console me.  It seems that among my most troubling conflicts are disagreements with my own brothers and sisters in Christ, when I see light where they do not.  I see light among the immigrant community who has come here seeking a better opportunity despite a prejudicial and dysfunctional legal system.  Others see only criminals.  I see light in the loving relationships of gay couples, where others see only darkness and sin. 

Paul reminds me that there is great room for compromise and conscience when we are disagreeing about things -- customs and traditions and scruples.  But he also reminds me that we cannot compromise when we see Christ's light in other people.  We cannot relax and let them be cast into darkness by those who follow "the god of this world," all of the prejudices and bias that our culture bequeaths us. 

"So we do not lose heart."  "For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as slaves for Jesus' sake.  For it is the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."



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

Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See 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 7:24 PM, Anonymous janet l graige said...

Gorgeous reflection - I listened on the podcast and had the kaliedescope effect going, so it was poignant to hear the words of light.

And it seems once we see the vision all that is left for us to do is to love and serve in this world...

A song I sometimes hum and sing -

Won't you let me be your servant.
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant, too.

We are pilgrims on a journey.
We are seekers on the road.
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the night time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you;
Speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping.
When you laugh, I'll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we've seen this journey through.

When we sing to God in heaven,
We shall find such harmony
Born of all we've known together
Of Christ's love and agony.

It is a collective vision so we need not ever lose heart -


At 8:16 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for the "Servant Song" and encouragement Janet.



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