How Do We Know?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011 — Week of Proper 21, Year One

Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton, and Margery Kempe, Mystics, 1349, 1396, c. 1440

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 984)

Psalms 101, 109:1-4(5-19)20-30 (morning) 119:121-144 (evening)

2 Kings 18:9-25

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Matthew 7:13-21

Last Sunday’s gospel opened with Jesus asking a question of challenge to the chief priests and elders. “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?

How do we know what is from God — what originates in divine energy — and what is from us — coming out of our energy and our too self-centered human motivation?

In our three Daily Office readings today, we see conflicting and contrasting paths. How do we know what is the will of God? How can we give priority to God’s will rather than to our self-centered motivation?

In 1st Kings we see a nation relying on its military power — the Assyrian Rabshakeh brags to the besieged city of Jerusalem that he could give them 2000 horses if they had that many cavalry to ride them, knowing they don’t. We also hear him claim that his seige of the land is directed by the God of the Hebrews as God’s punishment to them. Jerusalem and King Hezekiah can rely only on God in the face of overwhelming threat. The alliance with Egypt will bring no deliverance. Israel’s military power is no match for the superior Assyrians.

In our lives, there are times when our resources seem exhausted in the face of threats we cannot overcome? Sometimes we think we have earned the misfortune — maybe this is God’s punishment, as the Rabshakeh says. How do we know?

The prophet Isaiah will offer spiritual direction to Hezekiah, saying, God is in charge. Trust God. It is God’s will to deliver you. How does Hezekiah know whether God intends to deliver or to punish Israel?

Paul speaks of our total freedom under Christ, and then urges us toward self-discipline if there is someone whose scruples or weakness or ignorance might be troubled by our liberties.

I ask myself, when have I willingly compromised my rights so as not to bother someone who just wouldn’t understand? When have a flaunted some liberty, and caused pain to another’s conscience?

And the Gospel reminds us to take the narrow gate, for the wide road and gate is one that leads to destruction. Sometimes I’m not sure which is the narrow gate and which is the wide road. Sometimes it seems that you can only tell which way is right way at the end of the road — “you will know them by their fruits.” (v. 20) How can I know the right road?

How can we know what is from God and what is from us?

There is a place of moral orientation that seems like a “gold standard” to me — a place I can trust more than my sense of power, my sense of freedom or my sense of direction. In Galatians Paul speaks of the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is the result from walking the right road, the narrow road: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (Gal. 5:22) Whenever I can act out of these motivations, I believe it is more likely that I am following God’s will. A commitment to action that is more likely to produce these fruits will be a truer direction than power, libertarianism, or popularity.

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