Spiritual Work

As many of you know, I am part of a group of disciples who are working to proclaim resurrection in the Episcopal Church.  Our mission, as articulated in the founding blog posts of the movement, finds is roots in the eighth chapter of Acts.  This is a turning point in the life of the fledgling Church.  Stephen has just been martyred, while Saul looked on approvingly, and the first significant persecution is underway.  Because of the faithfulness of those early Christians, who fled Jerusalem but not their faith in Christ, the Christian faith is still around today.  It is a story of hope, of evangelism, and of perseverance.  It is a story that has motivated the Acts 8 Movement to continue to call Episcopalians to share the good news of God in Christ with a world that desperately needs it.

As one who has spent a lot of time immersed in Acts 8, it is always exciting to me when it rolls around in the lectionary cycle.  This is especially true on Easter 5B, as we hear the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.  I could probably write a book on this passage, but blogs are supposed to be short form, so I’ll spare you the long diatribe and jump right in to the word that leaped off the screen at me this morning.  Philip, having been brought to the wilderness road by the Holy Spirit, overhears the Eunuch reading from Isaiah.  In a manner that is quite forward, Philip approaches the Eunuch and asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  He responded, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

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This word, “guide,” caught my attention this morning.  Digging into it a bit, I found that the Greek word, hodegeo, is used only four other places in the New Testament.  Twice, in Luke and Matthew, it is used in variations of the idiom “the blind leading the blind.”  In Revelation, it is used to describe what the lamb at the center of throne will do for the rest of us sheep, “guiding us to the springs of the water of life.”  Of most interest, however, is how it gets used by John in the Gospel.  Late in Jesus’ ministry, as part of his farewell discourse, Jesus promises his disciples another advocate, the Spirit, who will guide (hodegeo) them into all truth.

Of further interest, is the etymology of hodegeo, which, according to Robertson, comes from hodos meaning way and hegeomai meaning to lead.  Beyond simply guiding, what the Spirit is sent to do, and what the Spirit does through Philip for the Eunuch, is to lead him in the Way.  The Spiritual work, then, for all of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus, is to lead others in the Way of Jesus.  This assumes that we will, ourselves, be disciples, having been lead in the Way by others.  It assumes that we will all be growing in our faith and in our understanding of the Gospel and of God, in order to teach others.  It assumes, more than anything else, that we will be in tune with the Spirit, who will guide us, as was the case for Philip, into all truth and into opportunities to guide others.

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Some Dark Comedy?

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Almost forgot to give this to you!

There are some lessons, especially in the Old Testament, that if they are read well, can really be hilarious.  The back and forth between God and Moses about the golden calf is probably my favorite, but the 2 Kings story of Elijah’s departure into heaven is a very close second.  The context isn’t particularly conducive to humor, the great prophet Elijah is being taken away from earth, after all.  Yet, the way the author uses the characters and their conversations always makes me chuckle.

On three different occasions, Elijah tries to convince Elisha to stay behind.  Each time, Elisha persists with these words, “As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”  Elisha knows that his master and friend is not long for this world, which makes his choice of words so darkly ironic.  Basically, Elisha says, “as long as you’re alive, I’m sticking with you.”  Twice, both at Bethel and Jericho, the prophets there try to tell Elisha what’s up.  “You know the Lord is taking your master today, don’t you?”  Twice, both at Bethel and Jericho, Elisha snaps back, “Yes, I know, now shut up.”  That part always makes me laugh.

Even in the story’s most poignant moment, as Elijah is finally being carried away to heaven in a chariot of fire, Elisha’s response makes me smile.  It is similar to Peter’s nonsensical response to the Transfiguration, as Elisha just blurts out what he sees, “Master!  The chariots of Israel and its horsemen.”  Funnier yet are the really terrible pieces of art that have been created in response to this story.  The one at the top of this post is pretty good.  So is this one.

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You should do your own Google search on it.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

By now, you must be wondering what on earth this blog post is about.  I’ve been wondering that myself along the way.  What I think has hit me this morning is how often we take the personality out of the Bible.  We hear these stories or we read them silently, as if they are just words on a page – matter-of-fact accounts of things about God – as if God doesn’t have a sense of humor, or a personality, or engage with humanity on our own terms.  We tend to think the only emotion God can show is that of anger, but what if that isn’t true?  What if God can offer a wry smile?  What if God has a sarcastic streak?  What if God wants to use things like humor and joy to help tell the story of God’s love for all creation?  Is there some dark comedy in the story of Elijah being taken up in a whirlwind?  I kind of think so.  If you don’t, that’s ok.  Maybe you find humor somewhere else in the great story of God’s steadfast love.

Eldad and Medad

I’m nearly, almost, sort of, thinking about getting ready for another summer session in the Advanced Degree Program at The School of Theology at Sewanee: The University of the South.  This year, I’ll be taking classes from two visiting professors: The Rev. Dr. Lauren Winner from Duke will be co-teaching a class on preaching the feast days with The Rev. Dr. William Brosend and The Rev. Dr. Louis Weil, retired from Church Divinity School of the Pacific who will be teaching a liturgics class on ordination and the Eucharist.

In my reading last night, came the topic of what is absolutely required for a valid ordination with further discussion on the whole Apostolic Succession dealio.  Over and over again in these readings, it is suggested that for ordination, the laying on of hands with prayer is the sole requirement of a proper ordination.  As one who fought against the ritual of anointing my hands at my priestly ordination (while ultimately finding it very moving), this makes sense to me.  Before the clericalization of the Middle Ages and the direct associate of the priesthood with the Eucharist, it was the practice of the Church that the laying of hands was “a sign of the Spirit invoked in blessing, dedication, or absolution” (Sthulman, p. 23).

This is all well and good, or as an Anglophile might say “meet and right,” until we reach further back on the Day of Pentecost and hear the story of God setting apart the 70 elders to assist Moses with the leadership of the Hebrews in the wilderness.  The way the story reads, it can be assumed that as the Lord took some of the spirit away from Moses, something like hands were laid upon the 68 who came out to the tent of meeting, but then there is the curious case of Eldad and Medad, two elders who stayed behind.  It seems as though the spirit just sort of plopped down upon them out of thin air.  I’m sure the liturgical scholars of Moses’ day were pulling their beards out trying to come up with an appropriate response, but it is Moses that gets the best and final word.

“Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets!”

Hands laid or not, the Spirit blows where she will and rests upon any with whom God has found favor.  Sometimes, it is neat and tidy and fits in the Diocesan discernment process.  Sometimes, it is like a mighty rushing wind and fits nobody’s time table whatsoever.  I love the story of Eldad and Medad because I love that God works how God works whether the liturgical scholars agree or not.