The Chosen People

Matthew 21:33-46

Thank you, Jesus. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is now the God of Dick and Jane, Pablo and Maria, Jason and Jessica… and you and me too. In Christ, we are the chosen people. That is the good news of today’s gospel.

Jesus is in the temple and things are starting to heat up. In parable after parable, he is trying to slap the religious leaders awake. They are the problem not the solution. Their pride has perverted God’s covenant with Israel. The Father has sent the prophets and the Baptist. And now he sends his Son. Over and over God tells them to repent. But there they sit resplendent and self-satisfied. They love the perks and the trappings. What’s all this repent stuff about? For them, temple life is glorious. They have a good thing going. Why repent? Can’t you hear them whispering? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? But it is broken. They have kept the letter of the law and made a mockery of its intent. They don’t serve God’s people; they lord it over them. They don’t feed the faithful; they milk them dry.

Jesus is telling stories. But he is deadly serious. He sees the cross. He is ready to pay the price. He knows that with the unspeakable pain will come infinite gain. And we are all the beneficiaries. Jesus tells us: The kingdom of God will be given to a people that will produce its fruit. Through the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are that people. We have been chosen. The stone that the builders rejected is our rock of ages… cleft for you and me. In this gospel Jesus throws open the gates of salvation and invites us in. We are the children of the new covenant… built on love of God and love of neighbor.

But before we get feeling smug and superior to the scribes and the Pharisees, we could use a reality check. Are we just a new edition of the same old thing? What have we done with God’s grace? Has our pride distorted the new covenant just as their pride perverted the old? Are we so full of ourselves that there’s no room for Jesus? Was Bernard Shaw right to mock that: “Christianity might be a good thing if anyone ever tried it.” Or as Gandhi scolded: “If Christians lived according to the teachings of Christ… all of India would be Christian today.”

The scribes and Pharisees were comfortable keeping Christ’s parable at a distance. In the abstract it was just wordplay. But then things got personal in a hurry. He was talking right to them. And now he is talking right to us. He was challenging them. And now he is challenging us.

How have we tended the vineyards of the Lord? What fruit have we produced? We are not in his vineyard to sun ourselves or to putter about. We are here to make a Christian difference. That’s our job. That’s what God expects of us. And that means actively witnessing Christ’s love in the world… in kindness, in generosity, in forbearance, in forgiveness… in forthright testimony…in all the fruitful ways that share God’s grace with everyone we meet. That’s our part of the covenant that we have with the Creator… sealed in the blood of the Redeemer… preserved and protected by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Remember the original “Indiana Jones” movie. Remember the search for the Ark of the Covenant… all the adventures from Tibet to Egypt. That was fiction. This is reality. Our search for the new covenant is far more rewarding and can be far more exciting. There may be no car chases or sword fights, but it’s equally as strenuous. Dig deep in your heart. The new covenant lives within us… imprinted by the grace of baptism. Search for it. Cherish it. Cling to it. In these troubled times… energetically and courageously… praise God… thank God. Love each other. Forgive each other. Fill the day with joy. The covenant is ours. We are God’s chosen people… but only if we choose to stay chosen… every day.

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.

Are You Being Served?

Monday, September 29, 2014 – Feast of St. Michael & All Angels

[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 8, 148 (morning) // 38, 150 or 104 (evening)
Job 38:1-7
Hebrews 1:1-14

At first glance, today's readings seem awfully preoccupied with the pecking order of the universe. Our reading from Hebrews establishes that the Son of God is "much superior to angels." Our first Psalm explains that human beings are just a "little lower than the angels," and that all other things are "under [their] feet": sheep, oxen, wild beasts, birds, and sea creatures. In this cosmic hierarchy, birds may fly over our heads, but they are still beneath us!

Remember, though that Christ's ministry turns this organizational chart of the universe on its head: In God's creation, every being that is above another is designed to serve the beings below. Christ came to serve, not to be served. As for the angels, they are "spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation." And as for us, the "mastery" over God's works that the Psalmist ascribes to us should likewise be expressed as service to the wild and domestic animals of field, sky, and sea.

But since today is a feast day, let's not simply rise to the occasion of serving this glorious world, but also allow ourselves to be waited upon. Can you experience the angels serving you today? Will the kindness of others, an unexpected blessing, a release of self-defeating thoughts, help nurture and serve you?

It's not always easy to let ourselves be served. Sunday mornings are usually a bit rushed for me, and my husband often makes me coffee to drink on my drive to the early church service. I tried to help yesterday morning by putting a splash of milk in the to-go cup in advance, before the coffee was done. My husband said, "Oh . . . but I wanted to warm up the cup for you!" (Is he an angel or what?)

I regretted not letting myself be served by one who wanted to serve me yesterday. So today, let's be extra attuned to the angels in our midst, and to the small and mysterious ways that they might surprise us with their service. As our second reading asks, are they not "sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?" Let's see what they can do for us instead of trying to do it all ourselves.

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.

Wayward tongues

Psalm 66, 67 (Morning)
Psalm 19, 46 (Evening)
Hosea 2:2-14
James 3:1-13
Matthew 13:44-52

You know, in this modern era of medical science, there are a lot of parts we can fix or replace. When we begin to lose some spring in our step, a little titanium in the form of a knee or hip replacement can put us right. We can stent or bypass the clogged vessels of our heart. We can correct our failing eyesight with glasses, and we can even find new hearing with hearing aids or cochlear implants. But medical science has still never come up with anything to fix our wayward tongues.

Our reading in James today is one of those "we've all done it" things. That moment when we're hungry, or angry, or lonely, or tired, and someone says or does something that catches us just a little off guard and POW! Before we know it, out comes the cutting remark, the put-down, the mean-spirited aside. (Yeah, I see you cringing; I'm cringing too. Like I said, we've ALL done it.)

If that wasn't enough, the tongue also somehow seems to have the mysterious ability to recruit the fingers to spread its vitriol via our keyboards and text message pads to social media and text messages to create the cutting, snarky response. It's like there's a direct neural pathway between the tongue and the fingers that totally bypasses the brain and works straight off the spinal cord like a reflex. What's up with that?

The sad fact of the matter is we can apologize, we can take down the post, we can do all kinds of things when we see our regret--but if we hurt someone with our words, we can never take back the way they felt at the time. What's done is done. Boom. No going back. We can only go forward (or stay mired in that same awful spot that our outburst put us.)

Harsh or misguided words might be the most blatant reminder of our imperfect humanity--but it's also the place where we can always find room to do better, and see progress. We human beings are, at least, for the most part, a trainable lot. The fact that most of us have been relatively successfully potty trained, even if our parents used unsophisticated (or even bad) methods, is a good sign of that! We learn all kinds of things, somehow. Maybe not as fast as the next person, or not without a lot of fits and starts, but we learn...and we can always find room in our prayer life to train both our self-awareness and our God-awareness, in the hope that somehow finds its way to our tongues.

An active prayer life reminds us that we spit strange things out of our mouths when we're weary, or afraid, or uncertain, or feel that need for attention going on, and none of these are new topics with God. An active prayer life also reminds us that others are likewise weary, afraid, uncertain, or have something going on in their life that has upped their need for attention.

Oh, our tongues never quite give up some habits--I think for the most part we'll always be stuck with ourselves and our occasionally wayward tongues--but it does seem that the more we see things fully, the more we begin to make room for the other person's situation, and the more we begin to trust that God is capable of holding all things in the balance, we do learn that that need to deliver harsh or cutting words lessens. We somehow learn little by little it's better to deliver kind words or no words, and we learn there are ways to speak hard truths without cutting more flesh than is absolutely necessary.

When is a time in your life that you wanted to drag the words back into your mouth within nanoseconds of their utterance? When is a time you learned to see the picture more fully and could approach that person with words of reconciliation?

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.

Difficult Conversations

And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples, ‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.’ But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying. - Luke 9:43-45

Today's reading is a very short passage that comes between the healing of a child and the argument about who is the greatest. Indeed, the previous chapter is filled with lots of things like the Transfiguration, Jesus giving power to his disciples to heal, and the feeding of the 5,000. Through it all, Jesus is repeatedly warning that he was going to have to suffer and die but that he would rise from the dead but it seems that even repetition dulled the ears of those who heard, even and especially his disciples. Jesus said something (multiple times) that they didn't understand but they were afraid to ask him outright what he meant. It would have been a difficult question that would probably provoke a difficult discussion, difficult in the sense that something needed to be said, something that might be hard to understand or unpleasant to contemplate but which would have been necessary both to the speaker and to the listener.

Nobody wants to hear that a loved one, friend, teacher, mentor or respected figure is going to die. Jesus wasn't sick, so why did he keep talking about his own death? Certainly he and the disciples and followers faced some dangers on the roads from brigands and bandits and perhaps even from the Romans who controlled things pretty much everywhere, but those were common, everyday risks any traveler leaving home would have to take. Jesus was trying to open the door to what could be a very difficult discussion on a very difficult topic, one his disciples and followers were not ready or willing to participate in or even to hear.

Sometimes someone will open the door for a difficult discussion by saying something that brings a friend or loved one up short. "I'm not sure I understand what you mean, can you please explain it to me?" The blessing of a response like that is that it gives the person permission to talk about something they want and need to discuss but perhaps had never had the courage or the opportunity to do so. It also gives the listener the opportunity to really hear what someone else needs to say and, possibly, offer a way to help or support them in some way.

Some of the most difficult conversations come around the subject of death. Someone may want or need to talk about it but almost invariably the person to whom they are talking will come out with something like, "Oh, don't talk like that! You are going to be fine! You have a lot of years ahead of you!" The thing is, we don't know that for sure. We project our own hope and discomfort onto another who might need something quite different. It is more a time for listening than speaking, but it takes courage to take that step that gives that person permission to be open and honest about something they need or want. Jesus opened the door but nobody walked through. They were afraid to ask and so missed the opportunity to learn.

Difficult discussions happen every day and the thing that is almost a given is that somewhere in the conversation someone is going to hear something unpleasant or that will hurt or even point out their helplessness over the situation. How to confront a teen who has drugs in their room or backpack? How to speak to a long-time employee and tell them their job has been eliminated? How to tell a loved one that their drinking is causing a rift in the family? How to express feelings of hurt, whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, at the hands of another to that person? How to begin a discussion of finances before the problem gets out of hand? The discussion has to take place, but how to begin -- and how to speak and listen so that each side is heard and understood. It's not easy having difficult discussions or opening the door to one.

The followers of Jesus had the opportunity and let it pass by because they were afraid. Fear often prevents difficult discussions simply because it makes both parties to the conversation vulnerable. Vulnerability is something we fear; it lets people get too close and strips away some of our protective armor against discovery. To be vulnerable is to be open, and being open invites hurt. It also means loss of some control and the feeling that everything is just fine, no problems, no worries at all. But at least one party in the conversation has something to convey and the other needs to hear it and respond to it in a way that doesn't shut the door on the continuing talk. The followers' fear kept them from a greater understanding, and that was their loss.

One thing the followers seemed to lack was trust. They possibly didn't trust that Jesus would understand their hesitancy and confusion and clarify what he meant, hence their fear. I wonder what the answer would have been had they trusted enough to ask their questions and let Jesus answer.

I trust Jesus enough to have a difficult discussion with him but do I trust anyone else? What discussions do I need to have and how do I broach them? How do I respond if someone trusts me enough to want to have such a conversation?

I think I need to be more attentive and aware. Who knows when I may need to have or hear from someone else something that is weighing on them. God, save me from glib answers and the dismissing of concerns. Save me too from being afraid to speak when something needs to be said. Don't let me be afraid of being vulnerable or to let others. And if I don't understand something, give me the grace and wisdom to ask the question.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter . She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale.

Same Song, Second Verse

Friday, September 26, 2014 – Proper 20, 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 88 (morning) // 91, 92 (evening)
Esther 8:1-8, 15-17
Acts 19:21-41
Luke 4:31-37

If I wanted to save time today, I could write a reflection almost identical to what I wrote last Wednesday. That day's reading from Acts told the story of a slave-girl possessed by an evil spirit. The spirit enabled her to tell the future, and the girl's owners made money off of her powers of fortune-telling. When Paul expelled the spirit from the girl, her owners realized that they'd lost an income stream. They dragged Paul and Silas in front of the city leaders and aroused popular hostility against the missionaries for disturbing the peace and advocating foreign customs.

Today's reading from Acts follows the same pattern: the threat of lost income, popular fear, and missionaries in trouble with the law. Today, Paul's preaching threatens to put a big dent in the profits of the silversmith business, which produces shrines of Artemis. The local tradesmen get together to discuss this threat to their business, and they stir up popular anger so that "the city was filled with the confusion" and people "rushed together . . . dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus," who were Paul's traveling companions. Fortunately, a level-headed town clerk prevents a riot from breaking out.

Taken together, these two incidents from Acts reveal something about our world: If we look behind popular outrage, we just might find a small group of people who fear losing some revenue. And if we look behind that small group of people who fear losing some revenue, we just mind find a few evangelists who have a different vision for their community.

Perhaps these evangelists believe that people shouldn't profit off the captivity of others. Perhaps these evangelists believe, as in today's reading, "that gods made with hands are not gods." Whether they free individuals or threaten whole industries, these evangelists proclaim a vision of God's kingdom that disrupts the ways that many people make money.

There are so many examples today of lobbies who put profit streams ahead of a broader vision of a community that enjoys health, shared prosperity, and a sustainable future. In fact, behind the popular resistance to various aspects of health insurance reform lie small groups of executives who don't want to lose their profits, as well as nursing home unions who don't want to lose jobs if federal dollars support home modifications for disabled and elderly people. These situations are certainly complex, but the fear of losing a source of income is a tremendous obstacle for proclamations of the gospel.

Are we prepared to change or forego some sources of income in order to spread a vision of a world that liberates people and that refuses to worship the works of our hands? And do we ourselves proclaim a vision of God's kingdom that disrupts some forms of profit-making?

The world that Paul evangelized might not be so different from ours. Today, let's offer to the gospel hearts that are open to conversion, and voices that are unafraid of challenging the ways our society makes a living.

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.

St. Sergius: living close to God

Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live for ever. – 1 John 2:15-17

Once I spent a winter in a remote log cabin, a primitive structure without electricity or water. The single-room interior boasted a single bed, a table, shelves and hooks for storage and a wood burning stove of the most rudimentary design. I read by the light of an oil lantern and got up in the middle of the night to stuff the stove, since when it was full it only burned for five hours at a stretch. Though some weeks were quite cold – temperatures never rising above zero degrees Fahrenheit – it was a toasty little dwelling so long as I paid diligent attention to my supply of wood.

On the days when I had to work I would ski two miles out to where I had parked my car in a turn off along the highway and then drive into town. At the end of the day I would haul my laundry and my groceries back to the cabin in a little toboggan I had for the purpose. The dry goods got stored in plastic bins on my shelves and the perishables in an ice chest near the door. Leaving them in any container outside would have invited raccoons, skunks and bears to take a swipe at them.

One of the biggest lessons I learned that winter is how much time and energy it takes to live so simply. Before the dirt road that led within a half mile of my front door had been snowed in, I had gotten several cords of wood delivered there. But even so, hauling it to the cabin a few logs at a time on the little toboggan and then chopping it into usable chunks took hours and hours. Hauling water from a nearby creek and boiling it, cooking on the wood burning stove and then doing the dishes afterwards took hours more. I had expected to be able to spend lots of time in quiet contemplation, writing and drawing. While I did enjoy that luxury, I also did a whole lot of hard physical labor.

80px-Vasnetsov_sergij_radonezh.jpgReading about Sergius, the 14th Century hermit who became a Russian national hero, I found myself longing for the solitude and hard, simple work of a deep forest cabin. Sergius withdrew from the world to just such a place and lived there alone for several years before his reputation as a spiritual teacher led to his being joined by a group of followers. Such a life, while not easy, can strip away all the illusions we have about who is in control in this world. Unlike me during my winter in the woods, Sergius didn't have the job that got him groceries, the car to take him places, nor the logs that had been delivered in a huge already-cut-up pile. He was right up against life and death issues like finding enough to eat, keeping warm and not getting injured by wild animals. He relied on God for everything. And as he was listening to God, he chopped a whole lot of wood and carried a whole lot of water.

This brings to mind the old Buddhist proverb. “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” The passage from the First Letter of John for Sergius' feast day, quoted above, is about just that. Renouncing one's love for the world does not mean that you turn away from the exquisite beauty of snowfall in a winter wood at sunset. It does not mean that you quit listening, with a quick, numb-lipped smile, to the sharp crack of the axe as it breaks the ice so you can get water for your morning coffee. It does not mean that when the bear comes into your clearing you refrain from sharing your bread with him. It means giving up the illusion that anything more highfalutin is important. God is in the moments, in the details, in the brief instances when you are paying attention to what is right in front of you.

Perhaps it doesn't take retreating to a hermitage in the woods for one to begin to let go of love for the world in favor of love for God, but it takes something dramatic. Something has to interrupt the usual ways in which the synapses fire, in which thoughts travel through us, sparking knee-jerk reactions.

What we have grown up believing about success and security is a lie. This world is God's show entirely. What lasts, what does not pass away, is the love of the Holy One – God's dream, God's beautiful, joyous desire for us, and that which God has made and continues to make in the breath-taking and unfathomable universe around us.

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.

"Vasnetsov sergij radonezh". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Even the Devil Quotes Scripture

Wednesday, September 24, 2014 – Proper 20, 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 119:97-120 (morning) // 81, 82 (evening)
Esther 6:1-14
Acts 19:1-10
Luke 4:1-13

It doesn't take long for the devil to catch on. Today's gospel story recounts the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, and Jesus responds to the first two temptations with quotations from Scripture: first, "One does not live by bread alone"; and second, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him." But two can play at this game.

The devil begins his third temptation with a Biblical quote of his own: "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" The devil asks Jesus to test these Biblical promises of angelic protection by throwing himself down from the pinnacle of the temple.

In other words, if Jesus has real faith, then he will prove it by taking these promises literally, right here and right now. If Jesus has real faith in God, then he'll demonstrate that faith by taking God at his word . . . right?

I'm reminded here of the question that parents so often pose to their children to steel them against peer pressure: "Would you jump off a cliff if so-and-so told you to?" Perhaps a similar question could be posed to Christians: "Would you jump off a cliff if the Bible told you to?" Fortunately, Jesus' faith does not depend on blindly following and testing literal interpretations of Bible verses.

Jesus' faith rests on so much more. Jesus responds to the devil with another Biblical quotation: "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." For Jesus, faith is not about memorizing Bible verses and subjecting their literal truth to extreme tests. For Jesus, faith is not a dependence on proving Biblical texts true or false. A faith like that would plunge us headlong from the pinnacle of the temple to the ground.

For Jesus, faith is about figuring out how to live not with testable certainty, but with trust.

Today's gospel shows us that the devil knows how to use Scripture verses in combat, so we need something more than Bible verses in order to survive the devil's assaults. What we need is to live, as Jesus did, with a radical trust in God. A trust that lives not by bread alone, not by acquiring power, not by having something to prove. A trust that lets all of these needs and compulsions go . . .

. . . for only then will we fall into the arms of angels.

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.

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 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.

Past Articles »
Advertising Space