Same Song, Second Verse

Friday, September 26, 2014 – Proper 20, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalms 88 (morning) // 91, 92 (evening)

Esther 8:1-8, 15-17

Acts 19:21-41

Luke 4:31-37

If I wanted to save time today, I could write a reflection almost identical to what I wrote last Wednesday. That day’s reading from Acts told the story of a slave-girl possessed by an evil spirit. The spirit enabled her to tell the future, and the girl’s owners made money off of her powers of fortune-telling. When Paul expelled the spirit from the girl, her owners realized that they’d lost an income stream. They dragged Paul and Silas in front of the city leaders and aroused popular hostility against the missionaries for disturbing the peace and advocating foreign customs.

Today’s reading from Acts follows the same pattern: the threat of lost income, popular fear, and missionaries in trouble with the law. Today, Paul’s preaching threatens to put a big dent in the profits of the silversmith business, which produces shrines of Artemis. The local tradesmen get together to discuss this threat to their business, and they stir up popular anger so that “the city was filled with the confusion” and people “rushed together . . . dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus,” who were Paul’s traveling companions. Fortunately, a level-headed town clerk prevents a riot from breaking out.

Taken together, these two incidents from Acts reveal something about our world: If we look behind popular outrage, we just might find a small group of people who fear losing some revenue. And if we look behind that small group of people who fear losing some revenue, we just mind find a few evangelists who have a different vision for their community.

Perhaps these evangelists believe that people shouldn’t profit off the captivity of others. Perhaps these evangelists believe, as in today’s reading, “that gods made with hands are not gods.” Whether they free individuals or threaten whole industries, these evangelists proclaim a vision of God’s kingdom that disrupts the ways that many people make money.

There are so many examples today of lobbies who put profit streams ahead of a broader vision of a community that enjoys health, shared prosperity, and a sustainable future. In fact, behind the popular resistance to various aspects of health insurance reform lie small groups of executives who don’t want to lose their profits, as well as nursing home unions who don’t want to lose jobs if federal dollars support home modifications for disabled and elderly people. These situations are certainly complex, but the fear of losing a source of income is a tremendous obstacle for proclamations of the gospel.

Are we prepared to change or forego some sources of income in order to spread a vision of a world that liberates people and that refuses to worship the works of our hands? And do we ourselves proclaim a vision of God’s kingdom that disrupts some forms of profit-making?

The world that Paul evangelized might not be so different from ours. Today, let’s offer to the gospel hearts that are open to conversion, and voices that are unafraid of challenging the ways our society makes a living.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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