Friday, February 08, 2013

Maintain Justice!

Friday, February 8, 2013 -- Week of 4 Epiphany (Year One)

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
     (Book of Common Prayer, p. 946)
Psalms        69:1-23 (24-30) 31-38 (morning)     //       73 (evening)
Isaiah 56:1-8
Galatians 5:16-24
Mark 9:2-13

"Maintain justice!" cries the prophet, speaking to the people who are rebuilding Jerusalem.  Their work is a religious work.  They are rebuilding the Temple of the Lord. 

But the prophet sees that strong traditional rules about who belongs and who doesn't belong to God's family are interfering with the work of the Temple.  No doubt there are those who are remembering Deuteronomy 23 which lists some of those who are to be excluded from the assembly of the Lord -- eunuchs, those born out of wedlock and their descendants for ten generations, Ammonites or Moabites and their descendants for ten generations.

Isaiah sees these divisions and decries them as unjust.  "Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say 'The Lord will surely separate me from his people'; and do not let the eunuch say, 'I am just a dry tree.'"  Instead, the prophet gives a welcome place to the foreigners and eunuchs who will keep the sabbath and live in community.  It is a matter of justice and of prayer.  "These I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples."

Isaiah closes with powerful words.  "Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered."  That reminds me of the signature words with which our Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning began his term in 1985, "In this church, there will be no outcasts."

I know of churches who will tell a young girl who has become pregnant out of wedlock that she should hide herself from the community until her child is born.  Thankfully (for a lot of us), I know of none who enforce such ostracism for ten generations as Dt. 23 commands, not even those churches who read the Bible with fierce commitment to its literal words.  For centuries white churches excluded Africans and their descendants for ten generations and more.  Even now Sunday morning is our nation's most segregated hour.  And eunuchs?  I would connect the ancient prohibition directed at eunuchs with our contemporary debate about homosexuals.  Shall they be welcome? 

Much of what our society is debating right now has to do with these same kinds of exclusions -- foreigners living among us, women with an unwanted pregnancy, LGBT neighbors.  How does Isaiah's cry "Maintain justice!" resound today?

Maybe Paul gives us a clue.  In Galatians Paul is dealing with the division in his church between the circumcised and uncircumcised.  He suggests these categories are meaningless.  Instead, he says, look at results.  You can see the works of the flesh, and you can see the fruits of the Spirit.  He lists them.  Works of the flesh -- "fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these."  Even people of good pedigree do some of these things.  But "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and temperance."  He goes on to insist -- "there is no law against these things.

Reminds me of Martin Luther King.  "I have a dream of a day when a person shall be judged by the content of his character..."  


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

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

Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site 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

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 7:41 AM, Anonymous Peter Elzer said...

Hi Lowell,

As I continue to read your reflections in the troubled state of South Carolina, I would like to thank you for the effort you put into these, and for the kind words you find almost every morning.

Today's reflection should be mandatory reading for all of the fellow Episcopalians in SC that think the national church is not following the Bible, and just attaching itself to the latest fads.

Either you follow the Bible literally - and hide the pregnant girls, the menstruating wifes etc - or you read it in context and try to grasp the larger message of love and compassion.

Thank you,
Peter Elzer

At 8:49 AM, Anonymous Jonny said...

I read this last week here in my New York City apartment and can't stop thinking about it. Thank you for your beautiful words. My family and I are moving to Fayetteville this summer and look so forward to visiting St. Paul's.
-Jonny Schremmer

At 7:49 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Peter and Jonny,

Thanks for your kind words.

Jonny, I look forward to meeting you and your family and welcoming you to Fayetteville. It is a wonderful place to live.

When I think about the Episcopalians in South Carolina, I can't help but remember my youth, growing up in segregated Mississippi. We were so afraid of integration. Most of the society was unable to think of black people as fully human, as equals. In fear, our society tried to secede -- creating segregated private school systems, private club restaurants, etc. The people who did that were good people. They thought they were protecting a valuable tradition. Most have changed their minds now.



Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home