Tuesday, July 12, 2011

It's NOT All up to Me

Tuesday, July 12, 2011 -- Week of Proper 10, Year One
Nathan Soderblom, Archbishop of Uppsala and Ecumenist, 1931
To read about our daily commemorations, go to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 974)
Psalms 26, 28 (morning)      36, 39 (evening)
1 Samuel 19:1-18
Acts 12:1-17
Mark 2:1-12

I don't know who first coined the term "practical atheist."  I first heard the term as a description of people who express faith in God but who live as though God were absent, as though everything depended upon their own resources.  I find it all too easy to slip into practical atheism.

Last night I woke up in the latter part of the evening, long before the alarm clock's appointment -- my mind filled with things I need to do, those "things left undone which we ought to have done."  My mind came awake and wouldn't quiet.  I couldn't go back to sleep. 

I got up and went to another room with something to read, something to take my mind off my mind.  As I read, one of the problems that had contributed to my restless worry was solved.  The brief reading that I had picked up, almost at random, gave me an insight that put one trouble to rest.  I found I was relaxed again.  I went back to sleep until the alarm's call.

I felt a bit like Peter, who in our story in Acts today finds himself bound in chains, guarded in a prison as he sleeps.  It felt like a dream to him when there came a tap on the side and a voice saying, "Get up quickly."  The chains fell; a door opened.  When he "came to himself" he was free.  It was God's doing.  "Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me..."

How often it happens, when I feel anxious or overwhelmed, if I will relax and trust a bit, a chain drops, a door opens.  Part of what I know and believe is that it is not all up to me.  It is all up to God.  But I forget.  My prison is my forgetfulness, my own form of faithlessness.  Practical atheism.

So often the angels come in the form of friends.  Because I live in community, it is not all up to me.  In today's story from Mark, four friends carry their paralyzed companion to Jesus.  Their initial approach is blocked, so they get creative and "raise the roof" to get their friend to Jesus.  Our friends can carry us when we get stuck.  But you've got to be willing to lie there and let them.

At least part of what paralyzed this man in Mark's story was something in the man's past, something he needed freeing from.  Jesus gives him the gift of forgiveness.  He is unstuck.  He can move; he can walk. 

Some of the crowd is stuck theologically.  Only God can forgive.  Jesus can't say that; Jesus can't do that.  Jesus gives them a wonderfully ambiguous response:  "'But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins' -- he said to the paralytic -- 'I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.'"  That phrase "Son of Man" is like aces in some card games.  It can go high or low.  "Son of Man" can be carry superhuman connotations; it can also simply be another name for mortal.  Take your choice.

Sometimes the gift of forgiveness is the gift one friend can give to another to overcome our paralysis. 

Always we live in community.  I am particularly grateful for all of my friends who can get creative and raise the roof for me when I am stuck and paralyzed. 

It is never all up to me.  God acts, and chains drop, doors open.  Friends carry things for us us when we can't move ourselves.  Forgiveness happens freely.  Gifts all.  It's all gift.



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 missionstclare.com -- Click for online Daily Office
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 --  Click for Divine Hours

Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to http://lowellsblog.blogspot.com, 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 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


At 8:37 AM, Anonymous Tara Elzer said...

I stuggle with today's reading found in I Samuel 19:9 "But an evil spirit the Lord came upon Saul".

I have a hard time coming to terms with something evil coming from the Lord.

Do you have any insight on that?

At 7:45 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

I'm sorry I'm just getting back to my blog. (Had an out-of-town meeting last week.)

That verse bothers me as well. My best response would be that the writer believed that God does send such spirits into a person in order to serve God's greater purposes. We see a similar thought in the story of the Exodus, where it is said that god hardened the heart of the Pharaoh.

I don't think of God that way. It doesn't seem to me that the God Jesus points us to is that kind of God. But there is so much that I don't know, that we don't know.

Hope that helps.


At 9:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, its kinda hard to reconcile that and many verses when you have that old liberal worldview.


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