O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Imagine God listening to this prayer with a sigh: "It’s good of you to ask me to tell you what to think, but don’t for a moment assume that what you think is what I told you. I am not responsible for everything that comes into your head when you are being pious."
Much of the harm “good people” have done derives because they attribute their own ideas to God and then claim that God made them do it. See especially Bertrand Russell’s The Harm That Good Men Do.
Of the two greatest commandments, the first is that we love God with our minds. We do not love God with our minds if we don’t keep them open when we pray.
1 Kings 17:8-16
If you’re ever in a strange town completely cut off for material resources -- no phone access, no cash, no credit cards -- and it is snowing, you will probably have a much better chance of shelter if you knock on the door of a poor family than if you try to get access to someone in a gated community.
Some of the most hospitable people I have known in my life have lived on limited incomes yet with a jar of meal that cannot be emptied and a jug of oil that never fails.
My father frequently gave me problems to solve in what he called the arithmetic of stinginess. When I was 12 or 13 he had me estimate how much one of the wealthier families in our neighborhood had spent on doctor bills in the last year, noting how little they spent on food for a good diet. He and Mother never scrimped on any meal to which they invited guests. And they pointed out to me that the chief pleasure was their own: the pleasure of sharing generously. Life’s blessings are meant to be enjoyed, to be used up, and they never run out.
The best meal I have ever had was Christmas dinner 1987 in Chicago. Ernest and I were living in the run-down Belmont Hotel on Diversy. I was “between jobs” (=out of work), having returned from four years teaching in Beijing and Hong Kong, arriving in August, when all academic posts had long been filled. Ernest got a clerk’s job at Fendi’s in Marshall Fields, and with his salary any my savings we scrimped to see how far we could stretch our resources, not sure when we would both be fully employed again. We did not even have a hot plate, only a large coffee pot. Ernest used the coffee pot to make a gourmet 7-course meal.
Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, *
for there is no help in them.
When they breathe their last, they return to earth, *
and in that day their thoughts perish.
That reality of death is one that most troubles me -- not the loss of things, not the loss of physical activity, but the fact that our thoughts perish, our brains die!
The psalmist contrasts the inevitability of that harsh reality with our hope in God
Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *
who keeps his promise for ever;
Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.
The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind; *
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
The LORD loves the righteous;
the LORD cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.
Justice is communal and not coterminous with the thoughts of any one justice worker. The LORD works justice through generation after generation.
Glenn Beck takes issue with the point of view in this psalm. Recently he counseled:
I beg you, look for the words ’social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”
Listen to him say this
I plead that I am guilty as charged. “Social justice” and “economic justice” are high priorities of my faith.
Luke tells of Paul’s conversion three times in Acts, and here Saint himself repeats some of the key features.
I am particularly struck that he waited three years before going among the Christians after his conversion, and even after three years, he spent fifteen days with only Peter and James, not with the Christian congregation. He had persecuted Christians. Surely they and he needed time to get over that common history.
How wondrous he did win their trust. How willing are we to trust criminals who tell us they have reformed? What demonstrations can they make to restore our trust?
This is the second of two accounts of resurrection in today’s readings -- the widow’s son raised by Elijah, and here, the only son of another widow.