Missing Grace–Or Not   1 comment

Above:   Esau Selling His Birthright, by Hendrick ter Bruggen, c. 1627

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Hebrews 12:4-17 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

In your struggle against sin you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you forgotten the exhortations which address you as sons?–

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

nor lose courage when you are punished by him.

For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves,

and chastises every son whom he receives.

It is for discipline that you have to endure.  God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them.  Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” spring up and cause trouble, and by it the many become defiled; that no one be immoral or irreligious like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.  For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

Psalm 103:1-2, 13-18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,

and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.

2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,

and forget not all his benefits.

13 As a father cares for his children,

so does the LORD care for those who fear him.

14 For he himself knows whereof we are made;

he remembers that we are but dust.

15 Our days are like the grass;

we flourish like a flower in the field;

16 When the wind goes over it, it is gone,

and its place shall know it no more.

17 But the merciful goodness of the LORD endures for ever on those who fear him,

and his righteousness on children’s children;

18 On those who keep his covenant

and remember his commandments and do them.

Mark 6:1-6 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

He went away from there and came to his own country; and his disciples followed him.  And on the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue; and many who heard him were astonished, saying,

Where did this man get all this?  What is the wisdom given to him?  What mighty works are wrought by his hands!  Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?

And they took offense at him.  And Jesus said to him,

A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.

And he could not do mighty work there, except that he laid hands upon a few sick people and healed them.  And he marveled because of their unbelief.

And he went about among the villages teaching.

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The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The 1972 revised edition of the J. B. Phillips New Testament in Modern English states in Mark 6:6,

…their lack of faith astonished him.

In the Gospel According to Mark, Jesus has done astonishing deeds of late.  He has exorcised a legion of demons, doomed a herd of swine, raised a girl from the dead, and healed a woman afflicted with a menstrual hemorrhage.  Jesus has been welcome in most places, except the town where he cured the man with the legion.  Jesus has astonished people, some of whom have rejected him because, not in spite of, what he has done.  And now, in his hometown, Nazareth, Jesus encounters a lack of faith and works few miracles.  Townspeople recognize who he his and what he has done, but they cannot reconcile the cognitive dissonance between knowing Jesus as a younger person and hearing about what he has been doing recently.  And Jesus was the astonished person.  He found their lack of faith astonishing.

A cliche states that “familiarity breeds contempt.”  This is true much of the time, but I propose that we are often not as familiar with others as we think we are.  Certainly, the denizens of Nazareth did not Jesus as well as they thought they did.  And note the tone of hostility; they called him a “son of Mary,” not “of Joseph.”  There were long-standing rumors of Jesus’ paternity, and I wonder how Joseph, Mary, and Jesus stood it all those years.

Hostile and faithless residents of Nazareth missed grace when grace stood in their midst.  They saw it yet failed to recognize it.  They were too busy clinging to whispered rumors and old memories.

Genesis 25:28-34 an 27:1-39 tells how Esau, who had sold his birthright for a meal, realized the depth of his error yet failed to reverse it.  The author of the Letter to the Hebrews makes the plain point that Esau, who had put the needs of his body first, had thrown away a great promise.  Later he sought an opportunity for repentance–literally, turning around or changing one’s mind–but he had to live with the consequences of his actions.  He was not beyond forgiveness, but the toothpaste was already out of the tube.  That was that.  So Esau, by his own bad decision, missed some grace.

Each of us has missed some grace because of bad decisions.  Yet we remain within the bounds of forgiveness, if we ask.  We can learn from our mistakes and those of others.  Furthermore, repentance remains an option in many circumstances.  So let us focus on the positive, on the possibilities for living in grace.  But this requires faith in God.  The townspeople of Nazareth saw Jesus among them yet rejected him.  I write nearly 20 centuries later, and I choose each day to continue to accept him.  I hope that, in my familiarity with the Bible and other traditions of Christianity, I do not miss something essential.  Maybe I do not know as much as I think I do.  May God, by grace, help me to see more clearly.

I know for a fact that I see more clearly today than I did just a few years ago.  The discipline in Hebrews is suffering.  I have made some bad choices, mostly out of ignorance.  I have been too trusting sometimes.  In 2007, I faced potential legal ramifications (which did not come to pass) and suffered emotional and spiritual distress because of certain past associations.  I learned immediately to be less trusting of some people.  And I learned, through suffering, to be more patient with others, less judgmental toward others, more humble with regard to myself, and more trusting in God.  Discipline accomplished its goal, and I am a better person for it, but I have no desire to repeat the process.

This discipline was simply the consequences of my actions, not God, like Zeus, throwing a thunderbolt in my direction.  Actions have consequences, and they must play out.  How we handle the situation determines whether we fall into the same category into which the author of Hebrews placed Esau.  He spent the rest of his days weeping over his loss.  May you and I gain more than we have lost and find discipline to be the beginning of a new, better start in Christ.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 7, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY MELCHIOR MUHLENBERG, SHEPHERD OF LUTHERANISM IN THE AMERICAN COLONIES

THE FEAST OF FRED KAAN, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN WOOLMAN, ABOLITIONIST

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/07/week-of-4-epiphany-wednesday-year-1/

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Posted January 11, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Genesis 27, Genesis II: 12-25, Hebrews 12, Mark 6, Psalm 103

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One response to “Missing Grace–Or Not

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  1. Pingback: Week of 4 Epiphany: Wednesday, Year 1 « ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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