Walking the Walk with Jesus

Proper 21 Year A

One brother talked the talk. The other brother walked the walk. Jesus asks: Which of the two did his father's will?

Today's gospel is a short but powerful parable. To an audience of talkers, Jesus says that talk is cheap. Christ is in the temple in Jerusalem and he has not come to find favor with the religious movers and shakers. He has not come to whisper sweet nothings in the ears of the choir.

Jesus is the new sheriff in town - sent by his Father. And he doesn't like what he sees and what he hears. The Pharisees had argued the life right out of God's covenant. Endless debate and ritual had replaced the purity of devotion. Spiritual leadership had become a trophy for semantic gymnastics -- a meaningless prize that went to the clever, not the loving. And with it came the pride of self-satisfied, pious frauds basking in the trappings, not the reality, of God's favor.

Then along comes Jesus to blow the hot air right out of the temple...to replace all the cheap talk with a priceless message: Love the Lord with your whole heart and your neighbor as yourself. Got it? Good, now go do it. Don't just talk about it.

"Cheap grace": that's what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called talking the talk without walking the walk. He decried "grace without discipleship", being able to parrot the word of Christ while living like the rest of the world. True grace is costly grace...not just talking, but walking with Jesus and shouldering his yoke.

To his clever audience and to us Jesus adds a final rebuke and appeal. You folks are too smart for your own good. Snap out of it. God expects a lot more than lip service. John the Baptist proclaimed it and even the tax collectors and prostitutes heard and understood. It's a wake-up call for us. We can't be Sunday morning Christians. We have to be 24/7, 365 Christians. We can't say a few prayers, sing a few hymns and then shed Christ's yoke as we cross the church parking lot. We must live in Christ and Christ must live in us. Full time.

We are here to witness his love in the world. We are here to make a difference...actively helping, sharing, giving and forgiving... and then getting up the next day and doing it all again. We are committed to walking the walk with Jesus. And he is committed to walking us all the way home.

The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.

Christianity v. Necromancy

Monday, September 22, 2014 – Feast of St. Matthew (transferred)

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

Today's Readings for the Daily Office

Psalms 119:41-64 (morning) // 19, 112 (evening)
Isaiah 8:11-20
Romans 10:1-15

Our first reading this morning ends with a threat. God is warning people against necromancy, or communication with the dead. Apparently, some people encourage others toward necromancy by saying, "Consult the ghosts and the familiar spirits," for "should not a people consult their gods, the dead on behalf of the living, for teaching and for instruction?" Asking the dead for advice just makes sense to them.

However, God declares that "those who speak like this will have no dawn." In other words, if we want to wake up again tomorrow morning, we'll need to figure out how this warning applies to us!

I have to admit that what strikes me about this prophetic warning against necromancy are the uncomfortable similarities between consulting the dead and practicing Christianity. God warns against consulting "ghosts," "familiar spirits," and "the dead" in order for the living to receive "teaching" and "instruction." But Christians regularly consult the spirit of the crucified Christ as well as the written teachings and instructions of people long dead. Are we simply adherents of a necromantic cult?

Perhaps we should take today's Scriptures as a reminder not to let our own faith lapse into necromancy. When we seek Christ's presence and wisdom, we are not simply consulting a ghost. And when we turn to our ancient Scriptures for guidance and insight, we are not simply following the instructions of the dead.

How exactly does our faith differ from the practice of consulting the dead? For one thing, we experience Christ not as a ghost but as a tangible presence, manifest both in the sacrament and in human beings when they are in need (Mt 25:31-46). And, for another thing, the illumination we receive from our Scriptures open us to the future rather than constraining us to the past. Isaiah describes himself and his prophetic children as "signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts." These lights throughout our Scriptures direct our lives forward, toward the vision God has for all people.

From time to time, we may find ourselves practicing a faith that feels more like necromancy than like truly living and breathing as God desires. Prophetic words like today's first reading can wake us up to the dawn that God continues to prepare for us, day by day, as we practice a faith that has a future as well as a past.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Singing a new song

Psalm 93, 96 (Morning)
Psalm 34 (Evening)
Esther 3:1-4:3 or Judith 5:22-6:4, 10-21
James 1:19-27
Matthew 6:1-6,16-18

The opening lines of Psalm 96 are familiar to most of us: "Sing to the Lord a new song." Yet, what does that really mean?

Perhaps you have had the experience I often have when I visit my dear friend's Episcopal church 110 miles away. I certainly recognize the familiarity of our liturgy, but when we sing, I'm frequently looking at the hymnal and thinking, "Hmmm. We never sing this one at home." So I kind of fake my way through it and hope I don't hit too many clinkers in my hesitation and uncertainty singing it.

It just never feels right to sing a new song at first, even if it is in our long-established hymnal. Everyone around looks comfortable, because they are used to singing that song. I'm just hoping I don't ruin it for them, yet at the same time, it even feels more wrong not to sing.

Our usual modus operandi, I think, is to try out new songs in the privacy of our own homes, particularly in the shower--ever notice how we all sound so much better in the shower? (Perhaps it's the combination of "the shower walls make us sound more resonant, plus the water drowns us out so we have less fear of others hearing.")

But, you know, really, most of the new songs of life, we hardly ever get to try them out in the shower first. It's a lot like visiting that other church--more often, we find ourselves thrust into a situation where it feels like we're the outsider, and everyone else is way more familiar with it than we are, and we fear we've done poorly.

Perhaps the thing to remember is that we are seldom the first person who's ever had to sing this new song. It's been in the hymnal for a long time, and those people that seem so comfortable and familiar with it? Well, we never got to see them when it was a new song for them, as well. You never know what they might have to say about that song and the trouble they had with it at first.

Also, odds on we won't be the last to suddenly learn that new song either. Someone will be trying out that new song any day now, and we can be of some help, even if we've only sung it once. Singing new songs under the flowing shower of the waters of our baptism might be more like our shower at home than we think. It might even make us sound and feel okay about it one day!

What is the new song in your life you're struggling with at the moment? When is a time your familiarity with a song gave a new singer a chance to feel safe trying out that song?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. She occasionally finds time to write about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid.

Making Headlines

Esther 2:5-8, 15-23

One of the best things about the Daily Office is that it often gives us readings we wouldn't ordinarily hear or read for ourselves. I can't remember hearing about Esther in church maybe more than once or twice in my life and it was more a passing mention than an in-depth exposition. Still, we have the opportunity to read the whole book over the course of several days.

97px-Esther_haram.jpgEsther was named Hadassah at birth, a name meaning "myrtle" or "myrtle tree,." a symbol for righteousness. When she was taken to the harem, however, she took the name "Esther" to cover her religious identity. Esther in Hebrew means "hiddenness" but in Persian it can mean "star." Both names give us a clue about Esther and her story.

Oftentimes a young person will leave home and become a star -- a media star, sports hero, musical genius, esteemed performer or learned expert in a given field. When that prominence happens, quite often the local paper will run a feature article with a title somewhat akin to "Local Boy/Girl Makes Good." With the story of Esther, the local girl definitely did that.

What's a king to do when his queen refuses to honor his request for her presence at a major banquet? That was the predicament Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes) found himself in and he was not pleased. His queen Vashti had disrespected him in public and so a replacement found. The king had his minions search the kingdom for the most beautiful women and had them brought to the court so that he could choose. It was probably a terrifying experience for girls who had thought their lives would be lived out in their towns and villages with family close by. Instead, they found themselves in a harem, waiting to see if they pleased the king or not.

It's kind of a coincidence but in today's world, young and impressionable girls deliberately put themselves in the path of their heroes, hoping that they will catch their eye and the love story of the century will take place. That "love story of the century" encounter most often results in a one-night stand and the girl is then dismissed. That this could happen seldom if ever occurs to them, or, if it does, they don't really care. They want the fame, the glamour and the rich lifestyle that goes along with being Mrs. Hero-of-the-Hour. It's pretty certain, however, that Esther wasn't like that. She had grown up sheltered and obedient to what her uncle and adopted father, Mordecai, and her teacher in the harem, Hegai, told her to do. The upshot was that Esther's beauty and demeanor won the king's heart and a crown as well.

Esther's is the kind of story of which Hollywood movies were made. That plot has been used dozens of times in stories and movies and it still fascinates us. The Cinderella story is as old as the hills but it seems people still believe in it. Almost every little girl wants to be Cinderella when she grows up, and some of them never really outgrow that desire.

The plot continues with various machinations against the king, one of which is part of today's reading. Luckily Mordecai overheard some plotting, then told Esther who told the king and the plot was foiled. Esther gave the credit to Mordecai which earned him a place in the court and a measure of trust with the king. It didn't hurt her standing either.

Esther is a very different kind of book of the Bible. God is not mentioned directly at all and only once referred obliquely by Mordecai. It is a story of Jewish people in Persia during or just after the rest of the Jewish captives had left for home following the captivity. It gives the story behind the Jewish festival of Purim, a festival commemorating the saving of the Jewish people from annihilation by Esther's courage. The chief adversary, Haman, is considered to be a persecutor of the Jews and, when the book of Esther is read in synagogue during Purim, whenever Haman's name is about to be read, the assembly stomps, shouts, boos and rattles noisemakers to keep his name from being heard. Instead of just writing him out of the story, they simply cover his name with noise.

Esther had hidden her Jewish origin from Ahasuerus but, when it was necessary, she revealed it in order to try to save the lives of her people through the love the king had for her. Today, paparazzi would almost certainly ensure that any breath of scandal, possible unsuitability, or even a youthful indiscretion would be quickly found out and would be exposed to the light of day again and again as if it were the most important and, indeed, only fact that people needed to judge the character of the person being exposed whether or not it was really true or only partially so. The once-lauded headliner "Local Boy/Girl Makes Good" becomes "Local Boy/Girl Found Guilty" or some other such less-welcome front page mention in 48-point type.

Even in greatness or a seemingly transparent life, there can be a hiddenness. We've seen that with the death of comedian Robin Williams whose brilliant wit concealed a darkness inside that, like a black hole in space, absorbed him and cost him his life. Most people have something hidden inside that they don't want the world to know about but, quite often, that hiddenness becomes too great to be contained and it spills out like crude oil from a ruptured pipeline, staining and ruining all it touches.

With Esther, the hiddenness was turned to good. Who knows what hiddenness in each of us could also be turned to good if need and opportunity arose? Today might be a good time to look around and see if the possibility is there and waiting. It may not save an entire nation, but it could save one life or maybe make that life more bearable for another whose hiddenness is pain and suffering.

We may never make the headlines as "Making Good," but perhaps a hiddenness within us might be turned to something good that will benefit someone who really needs a hand. That revelation of our hiddenness may never make us a star in the conventional sense, but I'd be willing to bet there'd be an extra star or two in our crowns one day.

"Esther haram" by Original uploader was Zereshk at en.wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Put Out

Friday, September 19, 2014 -- Week of Proper 19, Year Two

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

Today's Readings for the Daily Office

Psalms 69:1-23(24-30)31-38 (morning) // 73 (evening)
Esther 1:1-4, 10-19
Acts 17:1-15
John 12:36b-43

Today's gospel passage reminds us of the invisible but heavy burden that many people carry: Words we are too afraid to say. Just last week, I heard a politician being interviewed on the radio, and he used all manner of wordsmithing to avoid articulating any clear stance on an issue. He seemed afraid that any verbal commitment would cost him his leadership position. He was too afraid to say what he believed . . . assuming he believes something, that is!

The religious authorities in the time of John's gospel have similar fears. According to this passage, there are "many, even of the authorities," who believe that Jesus is truly God with us. We know that prominent people like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea kept their faith secret, interacting with Jesus only under cover of darkness. Perhaps there were others like them who were too afraid to be discovered, and whose names are therefore lost to the Scriptural record.

The gospel explains that authorities like these did not confess their faith "for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue." The fear of being "put out," shunned, ostracized, or excluded is extremely powerful . . . more powerful than these authority-figures themselves. The fear of being put out is what keeps them in line.

What things do we leave unsaid for fear that we will be put out from our communities? What words might the people around us be carrying, for fear that they could be excluded if they spoke from their hearts?

It is no trivial thing to be put out of one's family, faith community, hometown, peer group, professional association, or political party. But the fear of being put out is one device that keeps God's glory from being revealed in our midst. Today we can pray to loosen the grip of that fear, knowing that nothing can put us out from God's love.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Soul-full Exchange

And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’ – Luke 3:10-14

I got a new cell phone today, my first ever “smart phone”. And I just love playing with new toys like that; learning what they can do, activating all the bells and whistles. It's loads of fun.

But thinking back on the high points of the day, that one isn't tops. In first place is a conversation with a dear friend who has had some medical difficulties and who was feeling blue. Our soul-full exchange brought both a depth of meaning and a quiet joy to my day that far surpassed anything else.

JtheB.jpgThe little passage from Luke above is talking about putting first things first. John the Baptist, a fire and brimstone preacher, has been telling people to repent. What that means is that they must turn around and embrace what is really important. They must dedicate their lives to God, and the sign of that will be that they will be baptized in the Jordan River. And people are doing it. They are deciding to make radical changes in how they live their lives. And when they come up out of the water of the Jordan after having been baptized they ask John, “What should we do now?”

It's the age-old question. After the revolution, what are we supposed to do next? And John's answer is both simple and practical. Take care of one another. Share. Be honest and fair. Don't take advantage of each other. It's almost a let down in its simplicity. Is that all? Isn't there something more profound?

But that's just the point. The simple times, the moments when one soul meets another and communion occurs, those are the important ones. Sharing a coat, sharing a story, sharing a meal – this is the pearl of great price. It's right out there for everybody to see, and yet so often we pass it by unnoticed. Surely having the smart phone, with all the opportunities it opens up for networking and communication, is more important. But looking back on my day, looking back on my life, I can see that isn't true.

God's dream for the world is often as simple as that we will each do what is in front of us to do to be there for our neighbors, moment after moment after moment. The sign that we are on the right track is the deep joy and meaning we get from the experience. It's almost a let down in its simplicity – and yet what could possibly be more profound?

Icon by Laurie Gudim.

Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries.

Making a Living

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 -- Week of Proper 19, Year Two

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

Today's Readings for the Daily Office

Psalms 72 (morning) // 119:73-96 (evening)
Job 42:1-17
Acts 16:16-24
John 12:20-26

My local city council recently passed an ordinance that protects LGBT citizens from discrimination in housing and employment. During the public hearing before the vote, one very prominent businessman spoke against the ordinance. He claimed that the ordinance would make businesses too afraid to move to our city, because "disgruntled" employees would be able to file complaints against their employers by alleging discrimination. In other words, if the city voted to free a minority group from discrimination, then we might all lose opportunities for employment or tax revenues.

Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning also pits one person's liberation against other people's income-generating opportunities. On their missionary journey, Paul and Silas meet a slave-girl. She is held captive by an evil spirit and by exploitative human owners. The spirit gives the slave-girl powers of divination, so she can bring "her owners a great deal of money by fortunetelling."

But the presence of Paul and Silas soon upsets the status quo that brings these slave-owners a steady income. When the evil spirit annoys Paul, he orders the spirit to come out of the girl. Her owners are not very happy, because "their hope of making money was gone." They seize Paul and Silas and drag them before the city leaders.

I can't help but see this pattern in my own city, where some business leaders put their own desire to earn income from the status quo (landlords and employers that can discriminate with impunity) ahead of someone else's liberation from systemic oppression.

The slave-owners also accuse Paul and Silas of "disturbing our city" and "advocating customs" that violate cultural norms and laws. Then they stir up popular hostility against Paul and Silas, for "the crowd joined in attacking them."

Similarly, there is now a popular movement spreading fear that my city's anti-discrimination ordinance will allow male sexual predators to freely enter women's bathrooms and changing rooms. (Supposedly, these male predators will be able to claim that they are transgender and deserve equal access to public spaces like public restrooms.) People are currently using this narrative of fear in order to gather signatures to overturn the ordinance.

Today's passage ends with Paul and Silas flogged, thrown in prison, and placed in the stocks. All too often, that is where some stories end when people disrupt a system that generates income for some people by oppressing others. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but tomorrow's reading has a much more triumphant ending. Let's just say that it's worth hoping and praying today for a liberating outcome in the future.

(Incidentally, supporters of the anti-discrimination ordinance pointed out that 91% of Fortune 500 companies protect their employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 61% of protect employees on the basis of gender identity. Further, according to The Rise of the Creative Class, cities that welcome LGBT communities also have high levels of economic productivity. In the kingdom of God, we don't have to choose between liberation and abundance.)

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Eyes on the prize

Matthew 20:1-16

Good peripheral vision is a blessing and a curse. It makes us aware of our surroundings. It alerts us to the people in our lives… their strengths… their weaknesses… their achievements… their failings. When blessed by Christian charity, good peripheral vision quickly zeroes in on those who need our help. When tainted by pride, peripheral vision identifies rivals and triggers jealousy and ill will. The choice is ours… resentment or kindness… self-centered or Christ-centered.
The lesson of today’s gospel is to make the right choice… to see past the clutter… to keep our eyes on the prize. The first thing we learn from this gospel is that God keeps his promises. All the rewards of a life in Christ will be ours. Don’t be distracted by the good fortune or failings of others. The gospel instructs us not to measure and compare their merits and their shortcomings to ours. That’s a pretty straight-forward message. But our egos resist and complain: “It’s not fair. I worked longer. I did more. God owes me more”

150px-005_Tiberius.jpgAs a kid reading this gospel for this first time, that seemed like a very reasonable position. My galloping ego immediately identified with the “good guys.” They worked longer, they should get more. It’s only fair. I had to learn that salvation is not a merit badge. We don’t earn it. It’s a gift from God.

Today, I thank God that he is not governed by my adolescent notions of fairness. We do not judge God. He judges us. And thankfully he does not judge us by our self-centered standards of fairness… or else no one would be saved. He sees us and knows us in intimate detail. He judges us with a forbearance and forgiveness bound by infinite love.
Christ spreads a wide net to gather us in. But if you were the only one to be saved… or I was the only one to be saved…or someone in some remote corner of creation were the only one to be saved, Christ would do it all again. Salvation is not a class-action event. Jesus is our own personal Savior. He did not come to save the early birds or the late arrivals. He comes for each of us-- one by one. He knows and loves each of us in our pride and foolishness, in our falls and resurrections. He does not weigh our worth against each other. Why should we?

Spiritual snobbery is Satan’s trap for the righteous. It tells us that we are better… we have worked longer… we have served the Lord more faithfully. Our pride would have us believe that God has some nerve asking us to share heaven with drunks and dope addicts… all those death-bed converts from a life of sin… all those latecomers to the vineyard. We need to be reminded that God’s grace is infinite. We don’t generate it. We can’t hoard it. We can’t use it up. He doesn’t take it from us to give to others. We are not the arbiters of God’s grace. We are the channels of his love. We are the instruments of his mercy. And the closer we follow Jesus, the more Christ-like we try to be, the more welcoming we become… rejoicing, not resenting, the arrival of each new laborer in the vineyard.

Today, the message applies to recent converts, as well as pillars of the church, to the faithful and to the fallen-away. While the lesson is timeless, it had a very immediate application back when Matthew was compiling this gospel. Jesus had made it clear that the new covenant was open to Jew and Gentile alike. But to many of Christ’s earliest and most faithful followers, this didn’t seem fair. The Chosen People had served the Lord from the time of Abraham. They had lived in strict conformity to the laws of God. Hadn’t they earned more than these Johnny-come-lately Gentiles? Jesus is telling them and telling us that earning has nothing to do with salvation. No one buys their way into the kingdom of God. We come by invitation only… an invitation written in the blood of Christ.

Today, I often find myself relating more to the latecomers than to the early risers. I am so very grateful that the grace of God has found me, the mercy of God forgives me, and the love of Christ brings us and binds us together. Early or late to the vineyard, I am… we are… so blessed to do God’s work today. I rejoice in our worship, in our fellowship, in our outreach… in all the labors of love that we share. Every day I try to be aware… to be responsive… to be grateful for God’s great gift of saving grace. I pray we stay focused and resist the petty, divisive instinct to judge our neighbors… to take their moral inventories… and to make self-serving comparisons. In the words of the old spiritual: Keep your eyes on the prize… the ultimate prize… our salvation… our love of God… our love of neighbor. Jesus will put everything else in perspective.

The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.


Monday, September 15, 2014 – Holy Cross Day (Transferred)

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

Today's Readings for the Daily Office

Psalms 66 (morning) // 118 (evening)
Numbers 21:4-9
John 3:11-17

The cross is perhaps the most heavily interpreted symbol in the world. It can signify God's presence with us in suffering and eventual triumph over evil, like the cross formed from the debris of the Twin Towers. It can represent our commitment to offer our whole lives in the service of justice and peace, like the crosses that some people wear around their necks. And it can express Christ's desire to "draw the whole world to himself" (as today's Collect puts it), with its four arms extending in every cardinal direction from the rooftops of churches around the world.

It's always tempting to add another layer of meaning to the cross. However, our readings this morning asks us to simply lift up our eyes and look at the cross rather than examining and interpreting it. Instead of burdening the cross with meanings, we could use today to explore the effects of simply gazing at a cross.

Our first reading suggests that looking at the cross might have some medicinal effects. When God's people were bitten by venomous snakes, God instructed Moses to make a serpent out of bronze and put it on a pole. Anyone with a snake bite could look up at that bronze serpent and live. Perhaps by looking up at the cross, we too can experience debilitating toxins leaving our system.

The gospel passage this morning makes direct reference to the first reading, saying that "just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up." The Son of Man, lifted up for all to see, communicates God's deep love for the world and God's purpose not "to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved though him." Perhaps by looking up at the cross, we can experience the weight of condemnation lifted off of our shoulders.

Instead of trying to think through or dissect the imagery and symbolism of the cross, what might happen if we took some time today simply to observe a cross, to notice the incidental crosses in our midst, to let the cross attract and embrace us? Healing and liberation might be waiting for us at the next intersection of two lines.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Sign of the cross

Psalm 46, 87
1 Kings 8:22-30
Ephesians 2:11-22

2fingers.jpgSomething that often surprises a newcomer to the Episcopal Church is, that, on any given Sunday, well...there's a whole lot of crossin' goin' on. It's a reminder that Anglicanism holds both Catholic and Protestant tradition all in one place. Whether it's the priest making the sign of the cross to the gathered faithful, or over the elements at their consecration, or those in the pews making big crosses on their chest at various times in the liturgy or small ones on their head, mouth, and heart prior to the reading of the Gospel, the sign of the Cross is a rich and visible part of our liturgy. So what's up with all that crossin'?

Here's a little about what we know about the sign of the Cross:

We know that the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Tau, has significance going clear back to Genesis 4, when God placed a mark on Cain, when Cain was exiled. The mark was to serve as protection from being killed. Even after all Cain did, the implication was that God still stated, "he's mine." Tau is used for "mark" in several places in the Hebrew scriptures.

Fast forward to the contemporary time Of Jesus and John the Baptist. Some evidence exists that the Essenes (a rather ascetic sect of Judaism at the time) welcomed new members into their community by tracing a Tau on their forehead. It's been debated whether John the Baptist might have done a similar thing to the newly baptized. Speculative, to be sure, but it's certainly plausible speculation.

What we do know, is that there was at least a tradition in Judaism regarding symbolically marking human beings with a visible sign or gesture. In the more Hellenized parts of the world, Greeks would have seen the gesture, and associated it with their letter Chi, an "X". "Christ," in Greek--Christos--Xpictoc, spelled in Greek letters--well, you know they would have noticed that "X" and those "X's" people were making on each other, and it was probably just a natural progression to wanting to make those "X's" on themselves somewhere in that story, to call to mind God's divinity or God's protection. Again, there's a certain amount of speculation here--but at least by 211 CE, we have written evidence that it was common practice among Christians to cross themselves. Tertullian wrote that Christians seldom did anything significant without making the sign of the Cross.

Fast forward to today--what, then, are we to make of the sign of the Cross? Tradition? Superstition? Sociability? ("Everyone else in this place is doin' it, so I guess I will too...") Or is there a way we can incorporate real meaning to it?

This simple gesture has tremendous power when it comes to our memory banks. The sign of the cross is a reminder of the marker of our baptism. It's made over our earthly remains at the funeral and over the spot of earth where we're placed for eternity. It's made over the spiritual food we receive in the Eucharist. It connects us to all the saints and apostles and martrys, reaching far into antiquity. In those times when we're afraid, it can feel like God's protection--or in our sadness that we're loved. Even when we feel we've been as wicked as Cain, and those close to us are not terribly fond of us at the moment, that God still claims us as God's own and won't abandon us as we find our way out of the abyss.

When was a time that the sign of the cross mattered--really mattered to you? Where is a place that you can begin to incorporate the sign of the Cross--and its meaning--in your life in a new way?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. She occasionally finds time to write about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid.

"2fingers" by Oldfaith123 (talk) (Uploads) - Own work. Via Wikipedia.

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