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New Life

New Life

Monday, January 28, 2013 –– Week of 3 Epiphany (Year One)

Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Theologian, 1274

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html 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. 944)

Psalms 41, 52 (morning) // 44 (evening)

Isaiah 48:1-11

Galatians 1:1-17

Mark 5:21-43

One of the key assertions from the prophet Isaiah is that the true God declares ahead of time what will happen, and it comes to pass. God fulfills the prophecies. Yet, Isaiah complains, the people failed to trust in the prophecies of old, and now they are failing to believe in the new prophecies that he speaks. Isaiah is telling an exiled and demoralized community that God now has raised up the Persian Cyrus to liberate God’s people.

This was very political discourse. Most prophecy is. It raises the question in my mind — what political commentary has proved to be accurate, true, and trustworthy. When have political predictions not come true? Can that help us recognize true and false prophets? (It seems to me that economist Paul Krugman has been an accurate predictor.)

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Today we start Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It is a passionate, even angry epistle. Paul charges certain Christian leaders with perverting the Gospel of Christ by insisting that Christians must follow the traditional laws of the Torah and must be circumcised. Paul’s opponents argued that without circumcision and Torah observance, Christians would be abandoning the revelation of God and the faith given to God’s people.

Paul experienced Christ’s revelation as a liberation from the law. Trying to live up to the letter of the law had only made him anxious — “Am I okay? Am I doing right?” Trying to live that “perfect life” made him both self absorbed and concerned with human approval. The central gift of the Gospel of Jesus was the experience of unqualified acceptance and love that freed him from such concerns. Paul will use the strongest polemical language he can to condemn the return to legalism.

For many people who have migrated to the Episcopal Church, this letter reflects the same spirit of liberation that they have experienced having come out of fundamentalist traditions. The combination of biblical literalism and moralistic preaching produced confusion and anxiety. Trying to live that “perfect Christian life” became oppressive. I often speak to people who have experienced liberation and a revived relationship with Christ because they have heard the Gospel of Christ’s unqualified acceptance and love which freed them from the anxiety and confusion of following a path of literalism. Like Paul, these converts can get pretty passionate.

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Finally a note about this double healing in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus raises a 12-year-old child from death, and while he is on the way, a woman with hemorrhages for 12 years touches Jesus and is healed. The dead child is raised to new life just at the age when she will begin her menses. The woman’s bleeding is probably vaginal, and now she is free to bear children. Both are given the gift of fecundity — new life.

Maybe on that point I would like to draw some connection among these lessons. The work of God always brings new life. Isaiah claims that God reveals this path of new life even before guiding God’s people through it. It is a path that can be rejected. There are other, competing paths, but they fail to fulfill their promises. Central to the experience of new life in Christ is the experience of unqualified love and acceptance whose source is God. It is a gift to be accepted not an accomplishment to be achieved. When we touch or are touched by this new life, it heals the old wounds and raises us to new possibilities.

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