Thursday, December 08, 2011

Encouragement and Woes

Thursday, December 8, 2011  -- Week of 2 Advent , Year Two
Richard Baxter, Pastor and Writer, 1691

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 937)
Psalms 37:1-18 (morning)       //       37:19-42 (evening)
Amos 9:1-10
Revelation 2:8-17
Matthew 23:13-26

I'm glad we start with part 1 of Psalm 37 today as a prelude to the woes of Amos, into the warning and encouragement of Revelation, and finally to the woes spoken in Jesus' voice in Matthew.  Daunting and sobering Advent messages today.

The Psalmist opens:  "Do not fret yourself because of evildoers; and do not be jealous of those who do wrong.  For they shall soon wither like the grass, and like the green grass fade away.  Put your trust in God and do good..."  Psalm 37 speaks optimistic encouragement in a day of trouble, a day when the lowly obviously do not posses the land, when the "wicked plot against the righteous" and "draw their sword and bend their bow."  "Do not fret," says the Psalmist.  "The little that the righteous has is better than great riches of the wicked.  For the power of the wicked shall be broken, but God upholds the righteous."

Amos offers the pessimist's rejoinder, speaking to those "that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land":  "Strike the capitals until the thresholds shake, ...not one of them shall escape... and I will fix my eyes on them for harm and not for good."  The price of injustice, economic dishonesty and greed is deep and broad.  All suffer and none escape the grief.  (Amos adds a scolding those who think their country, their religion is exceptional, saying that God has directed the Philistines and the Arameans as surely as God has directed Israel.)

John the Divine recognizes the dire situation.  He encourages the destroyed city of Smyrna -- a city of great wealth, now being rebuilt -- "I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich... Do not fear what you are about to suffer.  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life."    He commends the church in Pergamum that held fast even when one of their congregation was martyred, yet John warns them of their failure in other matters.  "Repent then," he says, or the divine warrior "will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth."  (It is the Word that is the sword stronger than iron in John's imagery.)

Finally we hear words of woe directed to all of us who are hypocrites, words of judgment against the Pharisees that also serve as words of warning to the church.  "Woe to you" who obey the finery of religious observation and convention but who have "neglected the weightier matters of the law:  justice and mercy and faith."  He calls these scrupulously religious types "blind guides.  You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!"  Appearance does not matter.  It is the motivation of the heart that is all important.  "First clean the inside of the cup so that the outside also may become clean," otherwise, you are like "whitewashed tombs," appearing respectable but rotting inside.

The readings today speak to our contemporary circumstances.  It is so easy to read the newspaper or hear broadcast reports and be fretful because of evildoers in a day when the lowly obviously do not possess the land.  The whole country, indeed the entire globe suffers from those who trample on the needy.  The thresholds shake.  All suffer and none escape the grief.  We are in a dire situation and need encouragement and repentance and perseverance.  Pious platitudes sound empty when we are called to the weightier matters of justice and mercy and faith.  We yearn for the Psalmist's hope for the day when "the lowly shall posses the land; [when] they will delight in abundance of peace."

Tom Erich who spoke to one of our past clergy conferences has a recent commentary that seems to speak to many of the themes of today's readings.  "Now that the financial industry and major corporations have successfully lobbied Congress to make more people poor and to keep them that way, they are discovering the downside of unbridled greed: people are too broke to buy their products...

"It began years ago when they decided to pad profits by squeezing labor costs, thus shrinking the middle class. Then they padded their own salaries by juicing stock prices at the expense of long-range thinking, thus discouraging innovation and capital investment. Next they crippled regulators, thus undermining confidence and inviting corruption; and finally demanded tax laws that benefit only them, thus diverting spendable money into their bank accounts.

"What did they think would happen? If no one wins except a very few, the economy stalls. With all the incremental wealth in a few pockets, who is left to buy $200,000 houses or $20,000 Chevrolets or even $200 lawn mowers?"  (read the whole commentary here.)

Do not fret.  Put your trust in God and do good.  But be aware -- there are consequences when we fail to practice the weightier matters of justice and mercy and faith.

Lowell

Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
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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

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

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