Wednesday, September 7, 2011 — Week of Proper 18, Year One

Elie Naud, Hugenot Witness to the Faith, 1722

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 982)

Psalms 119:49-72 (morning) 49, [53] (evening)

1 Kings 17:1-24

Philippians 2:1-11

Matthew 2:1-12

It seems so odd that some expressions of Christianity are as hostile as they are toward other religions and toward science. In today’s Daily Office readings we have stories that offer to us another spirit.

We begin our sequential reading of Matthew today starting in the second chapter. Wise men from the east come to the manger of the infant Jesus. At the manger, they are welcome.

Who are these wise men? They are not Jewish. They are people who practice another faith. In some way, they are first century scientists. They observe the movements of the planets and stars. At the manger of Jesus, their knowledge is welcome.

How small is your God? How small is your Jesus? At our best, we proclaim a God in Christ who is perfect truth, the fullness of all that is is in God. So, wherever truth is discovered, it is a manifestation of the truth of God. And wherever faith becomes real it is the manifestation of the Word of God whom we speak of as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Whenever scientists discover new truth by observation or by experimentation, whatever they discover is consistent with the God of truth, because God is truth. There is no inconsistency between the truth of evolutionary theory and the Biblical truth that God created the heavens and the earth.

Whenever someone following a different faith tradition connects with the depths of spiritual reality and lives with faith, love and compassion, that person experiences the Word of God manifest.

We return to the wise men. Following science and the practice of their own faith, they come to the manger. They find welcome. They are not opposed as followers of another religion. Their gifts are not refused because they are the fruits of a scientific or foreign religion process. Their faith and their knowledge are welcome at the manger, because all faith and all knowledge are grounded essentially in God.

In our first reading, Elijah finds refuge in the home of a foreign woman, the widow of Zarephath, a town in Sidon. Presumably she follows the faith of her people, worshiping Baal or one of the fertility cults that was common among the non-Jewish neighbors of Israel. She and Elijah live in peace and mutual accord during the drought. She welcomes him, a foreign prophet. He raises her son from the dead. She doesn’t become Jewish. The son isn’t circumcised. But goodness, truth and life comes from their relationship as they treat one another with deference and honor.

Which bring us to the reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” In an “honor culture” where people see themselves as competing against one another to gain honor as a limited commodity, this is startling language. Paul suggests that it is in emptying ourselves that Jesus is exalted. The path of humility and servanthood is the path that reveals Jesus. There is nothing coercive or prideful about this way. But this is the way that will ultimately reveal the glory of Christ, who because of his self-emptying, “God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

So the path Paul offers for glorifying Christ is to “regard others as better than yourselves,” looking to their interests rather than your own.” That is a context of peace, love and respect within which we can be in relationship with those of other faiths and other knowledge.

We can trust that all faith and all knowledge leads to God. We don’t have to challenge or compete for God to be true. We need only be humble, faithful and charitable — like the holy family at the manger, and like Elijah in Zarephath. No need for arrogant attacks at science or threats of hell to Buddhists. That is all very unlike Jesus.

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