7-6-15 - A Birthday Prayer

Murder. Beheadings. Corrupt despots. Politicians partying with underage femme fatales. We get plenty of this in the news; must we encounter it in the pages of our Holy Scriptures? Well – yes, there’s plenty of all of that in the Bible, which, after all, chronicles the movement of God in human life and often reminds us how desperately humankind needs that gift. One of the least appealing stories of all comes up in this Sunday's gospel: the story of how King Herod came to have John the Baptist beheaded. We can no doubt learn something from this sordid tale – and we will. But I have no wish to spend our whole week on it, nor do I wish to tackle it today, which is my birthday.

Happily Sunday’s readings also include one of my top ten hits – the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. This letter contains some of the most beautiful, lyrical passages in the New Testament; I actually memorized the first three chapters as a Lenten discipline one year. Paul is so effusive in his praise of God and so passionate in his prayer for this community he has heard about. Here's how it starts:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

Just pick out the verbs in that paragraph: blessed, chose, destined, bestowed. In each case, God is the actor and we are the receivers – we are those blessed with every spiritual blessing that is going on right now in the heavenly places; we are those chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before God in love. That one sentence binds up our deepest past and our farthest future – and it’s all right now, already happening, on earth as it is in heaven.

Paul writes that God destined us for adoption as God’s children through Christ – which is great for us, but also, it appears, somehow adds to the praise of God’s grace freely given us in the Beloved, who is Christ. Imagine: when we receive God’s grace, it further praises the giver of that very gift. So when we refuse the gift of grace, when we try to justify ourselves, when we shun God’s forgiving mercy and insist on punishing ourselves, when we stubbornly cling to our self-sufficiency and illusions of control… God is less praised. Who'd have thought that not taking an offered gift could have such cosmic effect?

Today I celebrate my birth into this world, into a wonderful human family in which I am birth-daughter, sister, aunt. But I also give thanks for my adoption into the eternal and worldwide family of God, which has made me daughter, sister, mother to so many beautiful souls, chosen with me before the foundations of the world to be holy and blameless before God in love.

I can think of no better birthday prayer – for me to take in the immeasurable love in which I was made and in which I live, and to pray this prayer for you as well. Thanks be to God!

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