Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22 and Psalm 124 OR Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29 and Psalm 19:7-14; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
COLLECTFor the Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary time ....
Lord God, salt us with the inspiration of your Spirit that we may grasp the way you act in our midst, that we may indeed see you in the moments of our daily lives and perceive, without hesitation, that it is You who delivers us from our fears. May we, with all Your people, be ready to receive You. Help us in our roles - as Your children - to be prophets, priests and kings. When we raise our hearts and minds in prayer and praise fill us with peace and anoint us with Your healing Spirit. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
THOUGHTSMany times I feel inadequate to know what to do or say in a given situation. I lack the necessary wisdom and I know it. Perhaps that is the wisdom of God in my life, this knowledge of my own inadequacy. Because I know that God's wisdom is greater than mine I can then reach out for help. I pray for God's wisdom to know how to answer.
I lack courage too. When I looked at the Esther story I saw how frightened she must have been. After prayer and fasting Esther rose to the occasion. One suspects that it was in the strength of God, given to her in that prayer and fasting, that she says 'yes' to Mordecai.
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
There are marvellous Jewish references online about Esther and the festival of Purim. One such reference is The Ohr Somayach Purim Page which has loads of resources for further study and for information. It is important for us to see how our Jewish brothers and sisters 'see' the stories and passages of old testament scripture. The story of Esther is a delightful story which I recommend that you read in its entirety.
There is no mention of God in Esther. Some commentators suggest that this but serves to highlight the 'other' ways that God may act - the seeming co-incidences and ordinary happenings as our lives unfold. I am inclined to agree that this is so. Certainly the Jewish people themselves see God's hand providentially at work in this story of deliverance from such a grave threat as total annihilation of a whole people. (Do you hear echoes of the 20th century history in this story?) Because we know the outcome, we modern folk tend to dismiss the implications far too easily. Where is God at work in your life? In the life of the world? In the events of history?
The passage itself is the high dramatic moment when the scheming is revealed and the villain undone, the Jewish people rescued from the pogrom. To get to this place was an awesome journey. We don't often understand today the power exercised by those who ruled. There was much danger in the absolute power that was the right of kings. Danger for everyone including their wives. When first approached by Mordecai Esther hesitated. She was soberly reminded that she might have just come to the throne for such a time as this. Additionally Mordecai reminds her that, despite her high position, she herself was not safe and, more importantly, that if she failed to act, that deliverance would come from another quarter. God is not limited by us. God acts in the midst of our lives. Sometimes God requests our co-operation. Are you co-operating with God?
This psalm fits most appropriately with Esther. If the Lord had not been on our side....they would have swallowed us up. The intensity and grave nature of the various dangers is emphasized: earthquake (v.3), flood (v. 4), dangerous beasts (v. 6), snares and traps (v. 7). God can and does and will deliver us from them all. The spiritual connotations of this deliverance are fertile ground for contemplation. The most important thing to remember is that the deliverance is by God's hand; it is God's doing, not ours!
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
There are two parallel stories here. One is the satisfaction of the craving of the rabble and the Israelites. They are satisfied to the point of gagging on their greed. The other story addresses the concern that Moses has that the burden of these whining people is too much for him alone. He needs help. The first is seen as a spurious childish request in the face of God's provision. The second is seen as a relevant request by one who recognizes his human limitations and who also relies on God.
The heart of the stories, though, and the one that relates to today's gospel is that of the sharing of the spirit and the fact that the spirit fell on two who were not present with the others at the mountain. Joshua cries out, "My Lord Moses, stop them!" Moses' responds: "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets...." Indeed!
We often think in terms of Law or Grace. I don't think that works. It is Law and Grace. I don't think Grace would be worth anything without the Law. The Law is our judge. The Law holds up a mirror to our thoughts, words and deeds and names them for what they are. The Law holds out to us God's standards, the standards of the One Who created the Universe, the One who knows geometry and physics. The One who is the Author of the Law.
The Law. God's Law. How can it be other than: perfect, sure, right, clear, pure, true, righteous, desirable? It cannot. The Psalmist, in high praise, calls out that the Law: revives the soul, makes wise the simple (the easily swayed), rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes, warns God's servants, rewards those who keep it. The Law is worthy of meditation.
The Psalmist, despite his knowledge of the Law, recognizes that one can easily fool one's self, denying one's own faults and errors. He asks God to keep him from hidden sins and from the insolent who believe that they are beyond, outside, above the Law. Have I placed myself outside the Law? Who do I take for my authority? Why?
James is emphasizing here the efficacy of prayer. It is good, it is powerful and it is effective. A person living a life suffused with prayer will be an effective and righteous pray-er. My own experience has taught me, as I have learned more and more in the school of faith, that to pray at all times is to have an attitude towards life that is all-encompassing. I have learned to be aware that the Lord is present everywhere and always. I have learned to persevere in seeking the Lord in everything. I have learned that God is in control and prayer is my response. I've seen a bumper sticker somewhere that says: "Life is fragile; handle with prayer!" I couldn't have said it better myself.
My prayer life is a response to the gift of life that I've been given. I am to breathe prayer in response to the breath of life I have received. Pray at all times. When I am in pain or in need. When someone else is suffering or in need. I am to sing when I am happy and cheerful. To sing is, as the old expression says, to pray twice. If I am sick, I am to call the elders of the church for prayer and anointing in the name of the Lord, the great "I AM!" of Exodus 3:14 and of John 8:28. Not only will the prayer of faith save the sick but the Lord will also raise them up and their sins will be forgiven!
Elsewhere in scripture it says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We are urged to confess our sins to one another and to pray for one another so that we may be healed. I have no time for judgement of others if I am praying for their forgiveness and their healing. As an aside, James reminds us that the prayer of the righteous is effective and powerful and as illustration gives the example of the fervent praying of Elijah. He firmly believes it is not outside the realm of possibility for us to pray like Elijah. After all, he was just a human being like us! We are to be faithful and fervent in prayer. And we are to believe. James said straight away in 1:8 that we are not to doubt or be double-minded. Our concern must not be just for ourselves but for all our brothers and sisters. We must, like the good shepherd, seek the wanderers, too, and bring them home. By doing so we cover a multitude of sins and we help to save another from the final death.
Walter Murray wrote a hymn titled, "Because You Bear The Name." In it he exhorts us, followers of the Christ, bearers of the Name, to go. To "go out and be a church that shows God's justice in this place."; to "go use your gifts...."; to "go speak God's word"; to "go serve" In the last verse he calls us "stewards of God's grace." As stewards of God's grace we are not to limit that grace and the dispensing of that grace to ourselves. We are not to hoard the love of God and God's blessings to our chest as if only we ourselves could appreciate them. We are to be like God - liberal, generous, prodigal in love, extravagant, open.
If we are like God, then we will not prevent others from sowing seeds in God's garden. Nor will we be tempted to act in ways that would cause others to stumble. We would be cautious to examine our own hearts and minds for our motivation. We must be willing to admit that without God we cannot keep on course and we cannot save ourselves. To be salted with the Holy Spirit is to completely open to the influence and wisdom of the Spirit, allowing God's Spirit to burn away the dross and polish up the gold. If we lose our saltiness, it is our losing of our close and warm relationship with the purifying flame of God!
Ordinary ThoughtsSpiritual practice doesn't have to be confined to monasteries and abbeys and to the 'saints.' It is within the grasp of each of us. That seems to be the message James is giving in today's scripture. Elijah was a man just like us and he.... We can move mountains with our prayers and praise. Let us begin.
copyright - Charlene E. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2000 - 2006