Monday, March 14, 2011

Not My Power or My Might

Monday, March 14, 2011 -- Week of 1 Lent, Year One

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. 952)
Psalms 41, 52  (morning)        44 (evening)
Deuteronomy 8:11-20
Hebrews 2:11-18
John 2:1-12

"Do not say to yourself, 'My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.'"

Through Moses' voice, the book of Deuteronomy reminds us that all things come of God, and that we are all in this together, as a community of God's people.  God took the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, where they were oppressed by the engines of power, productivity, and wealth.  The Eg
yptian overlords continued to force the Hebrews to produce more and more with less and less.

In one sense the Exodus was a labor movement.  Moses' first function on behalf of God was to represent the people in collective bargaining with the government, speaking for labor to management.  Thirteenth century Egypt and its pharaoh didn't like the laborers' collective bargaining any more tha
n 21st century Wisconsin and its governor.  Greed and power rarely likes to be challenged by equity and service.

But God wants the people out of Egypt.  God wants us to escape from the clutches of bondage to production and wealth and power.  With signs and wonders God rescued the people from Egypt and took them into the wilderness where God could create something different -- community.

God created a community where people were responsible for one another and just in their dealings.  Where all would have their basic needs met -- their daily bread, their manna.  Where the vulnerable -- the widow, orphan and alien -- would be cared for.  No more would rank individualism allow for
 the oppression of some for the sake of the elevation of others.  Debts were to be canceled every seven years; property was to be redistributed equally every fifty years.  The community in the desert was to be a community of equals before God, with strong regulation -- statutes and commandments
-- that limited the liberty of those who might oppress others with their power, violence or wealth.

But God knows the temptation of power and wealth.  God reminded them that all things are gifts from the divine hand.  God reminded them that they are a people under God, a community with responsibility for looking out the welfare of each other.  They are not to go back to the other gods, the god
s of Egypt, and the other gods of greed and power and oppression.

When they are wealthy and comfortable again, they are not to think, "My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth," and then revert to the oppressive patterns of Egypt.  No more Egyptian economics.  They are to be a covenant people under God, a holy community, abiding by the
instructions that God had given them for taking care of one another.  Jesus summarized the laws of this covenant people -- Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.

The invitation is for us to be a transformed community enjoying abundant life extended to all.  We are to escape the bondage of Egyptian economics and enter the promised land of milk and honey.

The gospel of John gives us one of the signs of this new community.  It is a community where water is turned to wine for the joy and celebration of everyone.  The first sign that John offers as the sign of Jesus' new community is the miracle of the wine at the wedding feast.

A wedding is a community celebration, a place where a new family is added to the community.  This new family is not just another means of production.  It is a new neighbor, with the hoped for promise of future fecundity to bless the whole community.  Therefore the community gathers to give them
their new identity within the whole.  And we are to rejoice.  We rejoice with abundance and celebration.  Jesus' blessing upon the feast is to turn thin, pale water into rich, fulsome wine.  Wine that makes hearts glad and lessens our burdens and worries.  Wine that is to be shared in community,
 to create a festival of joy.

Later, Jesus will give his own life and his life's blood as the wine which creates joy and community in the sacrament of communion.  In that sacred meal, all are welcome, all are fed, all rejoice.

Ours is a communal faith, not an individualistic one.  We are to recognize that all things come from God, not from "my power and the might of my own hand."  We are to reject eternally the temptation to treat another human being as an object of production.  We are to leave Egypt and join the wedd
ing feast.  We are to obey God's laws which limit the human power to oppress.  We are to live as a people of equity, responsible for each other's welfare, and willing to love our neighbor as ourselves.

It is a vision for a nation that our nation sorely needs to renew.



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 8:58 AM, Anonymous janet l graige said...


Awesome reflection and vision to work with/celebrate!

I am writing one haiku per Lenten evening and posting the M-F ones. I am on Day Five, for tonight, and think I will have 40 total that way. It is healthy for my creative side to do this as a form of discipline.


At 11:00 AM, Blogger anglejax said...

Father Lowell,

There is much food for thought here. For the first time, I'm actually seeing how even back in ancient times, things were not so different. I see the "Egyptian economy" of oppression and slavery even at work today, everyday. We might not like to call it that sometimes, but I can see the elements just as plain as day.

I pray that the good Lord will show me where my thoughts, attitudes and behavior can have greed as a motivator, no matter how subtle it is. I ask for courage and strength to change that and live a life consistent with peace, love and compassion. Thanks Fr. Lowell for sharing your thoughts.

Sincerely yours,
Jack Douglas

At 7:46 PM, Anonymous janet l graige said...

Lent Day Five

Jesus changes things-
Through the water, the best wine,
Heart turned - Love refined


At 9:07 PM, Anonymous Ted G. said...

You know I love you but you have a bad habit of translating scripture to fit your liberal Democratic proclivities. That can be just as bad as a fundamentalist preacher down the road telling his congregation that President Obama is not a true Christian or telling Muslims they cannot come to a community prayer breakfast. If you were forced to be pay your hard earned money to a union that only gave to Republicans so they can bribe those Republicans when they get into office to pay them benefits that equal 74% of their salary at the cost to taxpayers, you probably wouldn't think that was very Christian. Comparing the Governor of Wisconsin to ancient Egypt is like saying Jimmy Hoffa was an honest man. Even Democratic hero Franklin Roosevelt wrote on the corrupting dangers of public unions.

I know I am free to just stop reading you but 80% of time, you present some of the best stuff I read. Ted G.

At 9:50 PM, Blogger anglejax said...

I know that I have already commented on this already today, Fr. Lowell, but I just can't help it. I thought about the words you said in the reflection. All day today it just kept haunting me....

Matthew 20.1-15 is a story about a farmer who desperately needed workers to harvest his vineyards. He then paid the same amount of money to those that he hired jut a couple of hours ago as he did those who worked for him all throughout the day... let's say around $50.00 each... That's how much everyone got paid! Is that unfair? I think it depends on how one looks at it.

The morning crew agreed to the set price before they set foot on the farm. Everyone thought it was fair at that time, but when these people got that pay for 10 hours of work that others got only for 2 hours, well now it doesn't seem so fair. Then again, this is what Marcus Borg called "conventional wisdom" and it is totally alien to the logic Jesus had when he shared this story.

With this in mind, Fr. Lowell, do you think that this "conventional wisdom" that everyone possesses could indeed enslave us and would be another form of "Egyptian economics." If so, it would follow that maybe we should allow ourselves the chance to be free from this as well... What do you think?

Jack Douglas

At 6:20 AM, Anonymous janet l graige said...

I rather liked the analogy Lowell made. And for this reason - an analogy is not a comparison of equality. The governor of WI did cross the line into abuse of power. When he became governor he became the representative of all, not just the 74%. I think everyone felt this abuse when he acted. I take the analogy as an analogy, and a good one. We should be very wary of abuses of power, even when done in the name of the majority, maybe especially when done in the name of the majority.

Peace, Janet

At 8:27 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

St. Paul speaks of systems like government, labor unions, and yes, church systems, as the "powers and principalities." He says the powers and principalities are permitted by God -- we need these structures -- but they are not part of the Kingdom of God -- they will not be what God redeems. They are all necessary, but fallen. You can't live without them, but you can't live with them.

A church's constitutions and canons, a nation's political structure, a political party, and a labor union -- they are all principalities and powers. Structures we need, but they are all fallen.

One of the things I like about labor unions is that they can balance the imbalance of power between management and labor. Ownership and management has disproportionate power over labor. Collective bargaining gives a bit more power to the workers, and, for the most part, that seems like a good and just thing to me.

Labor unions may be corrupt sometimes. I don't think that's been charged in the case of the Wisconsin public employees and their representatives.

Unions tend to contribute disproportionately toward whichever party tends to support their workers' interests. Corporations tend to do the same.

The story of the Exodus is a story of collective bargaining. It is a labor dispute. And, as is so often the case, God weighs in on the weaker side, on the side of those who are exploited.

No analogy fits exactly, but there are aspects of this Wisconsin drama that bear remarkable resemblance to the Exodus story.

Moses represented a stubborn and stiff-necked people that frequently rebelled against God and God's ways, but at least they had some collective representation to make their case for fair pay to the most powerful of principalities. I think the teachers and public employees of Wisconsin deserve to have their interests represented too. It has become painfully obvious that they negotiate from a position of far less power.


At 8:52 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

At my email address I got an interesting comment on yesterday's post that I thought adds to the conversation about unions...

Here's the comment from another reader:

Unions are most of the today acting as another layer of government/empire abusing people with taxes (they call them dues) and doing little or no good for anyone. Trade unions contribute to economic depression and are powerless to do anything to help prevent downturns in the economy. Then when such unfortunate events occur the unions stand in the way of recovery.

Each "union" needs to be analyzed with open eyes to see what they are up to. The majority are up to filling the ears of people with poison, patronizing mendacity in order to keep the union bosses and workers well employed. Clearly tax revenues are depressed due to circumstances beyond the control of the worker. Something must give and those who have benefited from government jobs for years must give in to reality.

I know of a "union" that worked for the benefit of the workers and the companies that hired the workers. The Miami Equipment Operators Union admitted all heavy machinery operators and mechanics who applied with any sort of history in this line of work. When member businesses called and requested (they had to agree to get all such workers from the union hall) they sent a worker to the employer. If for any reason at all the employer was unhappy with the worker they simply sent them away and called for another. If the employee could not satisfy the needs of the employer they were dismissed, no questions asked. Of course other state and federal laws protected employees from illegal actions. But the union never was in the business of defending a worker who was not functioning up to par. If a worker was continuously rejected by employers the union felt that individual had a problem and did not waste time defending them. Also the member employers were protected from abuse by the union because they could surrender their contract with the union and being hiring outside the union. Everyone was kept honest and productive by such a system. This union provided a valuable service to the employees and the employer -- it works.

Most unions are evil empire style operations. I feel that democracy worked in Wisconsin and I thank God for that. Good employees are and will go on enjoying their jobs with no interruption and if they want an economic boost they need to stop paying union dues.


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