Bishop's Lectionary Reflection
Proper 21, Year B
September 26, 2021
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
We all have suffered losses which have caused us grief, sorrow settling over and around our shoulders like a heavy, wet, cold blanket. Can we envision being free of such weighted sorrow and alive and joyful in the warmth? The Book of Esther is interesting in that it does not necessarily focus on God, and in fact, does not even mention God. But throughout, we see the hand of God moving to effect and orchestrate the salvation of His chosen people. The Jews are oppressed by a bitter enemy and God uses the life and courage of a young girl to influence rulers who can control the destiny of God’s chosen people. Their sorrow is turned into gladness and their mourning into a holiday. To commemorate their liberation, they are to celebrate by feasting, by sending food to one another and by giving gifts to the poor.
At first it may not seem like God is moving in your life. Sometimes we have to look more carefully for Him. We should always assume that God desires the very best for us, and when we see that best happening, we too can celebrate by giving a gift of good to someone, or a present to someone who needs a boost. Perhaps that is what is meant by “paying it forward.”
“If the Lord had not been on our side…” Israel has no certainty of escaping catastrophe. Because enemies surround her, there exists always the potential for calamity. She will not necessarily be spared the threat of war and attack. But this Psalm is a reminder that God stands with her, even in the potential of that calamity. And when Israel understands that her help is in the Name of the Lord who is the Creator of all, then she can stand securely in the knowledge that even when calamity strikes, she will not be overwhelmed. She will not be completely undone.
Even when the world overwhelms you, because God loves you, there is always escape. You have only to place your hand in the hand of the Maker of Heaven and Earth, and He will lead you to safety.
In these nourishing words, James gives us a glimpse of his idea of Christian community. He has some suggestions for the audience of his day, and they are good suggestions for us today. First, James calls us to fulfill roles according to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. If we are suffering, we are to pray. Notice that he does not say we are to complain, or that we are to blame others. We are to pray – to place our suffering in the care and sight of God. If we are cheerful, we are to sing songs of praise – presumably so that our cheerfulness can infect others. If we are sick, we are to call to elders of the church to pray over us. This suggests that we are not called to face sickness alone. And so, the characteristics of healthy Christian community include prayer, praise and teamwork. Second, James calls us to accountability. We are to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, so that healing can happen. This means we have to risk bring vulnerable with each other. And finally, we are to be reconcilers, seeking to bring back those who have wandered off the path. Because we are covered in God’s righteousness, our prayers and actions are powerful and effective.
What circumstances do you face? Are you suffering? Cheerful? Sick? What does God call you to do? What is your role in Christian community? Do you have a community in which you can dare to be vulnerable? Are you part of a Christian team?
“…because he was not following us.” Because this man was not doing things the way the disciples were doing them, they were quick to want to exclude him from the circle of Christ. “Because he was not following us.” Because the man was not part of the inner circle, He clearly did not belong at all, is what the disciples thought. Jesus reminds them that the circle includes more than just the disciples who live in His proximity, following Him day to day. The circle includes any who call on the name of Jesus for help. There is unity in diversity. If everyone were the same, the seasoning would become bland and lose its power to season. By enlarging the circle, the whole Kingdom of God emerges.
How often do we want to exclude those who don’t follow Jesus exactly as we do? Jesus would counsel us to cut off those parts of ourselves that want to draw people out of His circle. Maybe we need to settle down and accept a little fiery, prickly saltiness in our midst. Such acceptance is perhaps uncomfortable but could lead to peace. Fiery, prickly saltiness CAN coexist with peace.
Who prickles you that you would like to put out of your own circle? Can you resist the temptation to do so?
O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.