Friday, November 18, 2011 — — Week of Proper 28, Year One
Hilda, Abbess of Whitby, 680
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 992)
Psalms (morning) 102 // 107:1-32 (evening)
1 Maccabees 4:36-59* *found in the Apocrypha
Matthew 18: 10-20
“I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!'” (Revelation 8b-9)
Our parishioner Andrew Kilgore is a gifted artist who specializes in portraits. He has created a wonderful presentation titled Ineffable Connections, a collection of compelling faces that he has captured in his work. In opening our eyes to see the fullness of humanity, Andrew inclines us toward a glimpse of the divine. I once heard Andrew say that humans are the only animals who will look toward the direction that someone points rather than looking at the finger doing the pointing.
In today’s reading from the Revelation, John sees and hears things that are holy, eternal, ineffable. Instinctively, in awe he falls in worship at the feet of the angel who has revealed this to him. The angel immediately tells John to stop. The angel is only the means of God’s revelation, not God. The angel says to stand up and keep the words of the book. But the book also is merely the means of God’s revelation, not God. Worship God! Not the means of God’s revelation.
Underneath the angel’s command is the realization that God is ineffable. Yes, God is revealed. Yes, we can experience God. But the fullness of God who is the object of worship is beyond our knowing and our defining. Don’t look at the finger and just stop there. Look beyond the angel, the book, or Andrew’s transfiguring pictures. Look in the direction of what they are pointing toward… and worship.
The reading from Matthew begins with the illustration of the lost sheep. There is one sheep that is lost. Because it is lost, because of its need, the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to search, find and rejoice. “So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:14) Here is yet another picture of the inclusiveness and universality of the work of God. We’re invited to imagine and follow a God who will search diligently, patiently, and creatively in order to bring everyone to their home. We are invited to believe in a God who will succeed at that task, so that no one and nothing will be lost.
There is a second story in this reading — about conflict. We are offered some rules of engagement. Visit one-on-one. If that doesn’t work, take one or two along to broaden the perspective. If that doesn’t work, use the whole church in the process of reconciliation. If that doesn’t work, don’t give up. “Let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” The Gentile and tax collector, after all, were objects of the church’s missionary endeavor and beneficiaries of forgiveness.