Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Gift of Peace

Thursday, June 28, 2012 -- Week of Proper 7, Year Two
Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, c. 202

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 973)
Psalms 105:1-22 (morning)       105:23-45
Numbers 17:1-11
Romans 5:1-11
Matthew 20:17-28

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

[NOTE:  Starting next week I'll be posting from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  I won't be doing Morning Reflections, but I will be sharing reflections, insights and events from the Convention from my other blog:  http://generalconvention.blogspot.com.  
Lowell]

Two footnotes in my study Bible caught my attention today and helped flesh out the meaning of a portion of Paul's argument in this section of his letter to the church in Rome.  Here is the footnote that seems to help the understanding of verses seven and eight.  "It is hard enough to die for a generous, good-hearted person, even harder to die for a hard-hearted righteous person.  Christ's death for sinners who are neither good nor righteous shows God's unusual love.  (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10)"

Throughout this opening section of Romans, Paul has focused on the problem with religious people who are confident of their own rightness and condescending toward people of no faith or other faiths.  (Paul's conversation is about Jews and Gentiles, but it has a wider application.)  Paul takes pains to say that a nonbeliever who lives an upright life is more acceptable to God than a religious person who fails to live up to their promises.  The hard-hearted righteous person is harder to die for than a generous, good-hearted person, even if the latter is a nonbeliever.

Paul's conclusion, of course, is that our relationship with God is a gift from God, "we are justified by faith."  To experience salvation as gift, not reward, is to stand in God's grace.  That gift is freely offered to all, religious and non-religious, hard-hearted righteous and immoral sinner alike.

The irony that underlies Paul's conversation is that the non-religious Gentiles are happily embracing this gift of justification and salvation, but many religious Jews are rejecting that gift, relying instead on their traditional belief that observance of the Biblical law gives us standing before God.  So Paul has been challenging their religious perspective and commending those non-religious sinners who readily accept the gift. 

God's love is so remarkable, so universal.  God shows this love through the gift of Christ's willing death for those who are neither good nor righteous.  It's all gift, freely offered.

Paul has found "peace with God" by abandoning the project of trying to earn standing with God by his own moral efforts, a project that only brought him anxiety.  Paul has found "peace with God" simply by accepting the gift of grace -- accepting the fact that we are accepted.  On that gift he can stand.  On that gift is his hope.  It is a deep hope -- "our hope of sharing the glory of God."

His performance anxiety (Am I doing okay God?) is replaced by a profoundly courageous hope that confidently faces suffering, "knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."

Paul's gospel is an invitation for release from anxiety and judgment for us.  We can live with that same hopeful peace when we deeply know ourselves to be accepted by God.  We do not have to measure up to some external standard, we simply stand in the gift of God's grace.  And we can resist our temptation to judge others -- both the hard-hearted righteous and the more notorious sinners -- because God's love is so wonderful that God is willing to die in Christ for everyone.  Accepting that love allows us the freedom to love, even as God loves.

Lowell
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Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Go to: http://www.stpaulsfay.org/id244.html

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 http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html

Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location

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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