St. James Blog

Reflections on life in the Kingdom of God. Events at St. James.

Power Ball

What should be the Christian attitude towards lotteries? The Bible doesn't mention them and is generally silent about gambling. The church's teaching has historically been that little wagers between friends is generally harmless and can add a bit of spice to an activity. I used to play squash with a friend and we often had a small bet on the last game. Loser bought the beer. It was fun and harmless. The church has generally frowned upon large institutional gambling for at least three reasons. It is a tax upon the poor. It is often designed to be addictive (Video Slot Machines for example are optimized to encourage continued play). It can shift the focus of our hope.

I have taken greater delight in the way of your decrees
     than in all manner of riches.  (Psalm 119:14)

It is hard to carry a lottery ticket in your wallet and have your hope centered on God. Not impossible but difficult. When people buy lottery tickets they tend to imagine what they would do if they won. This is a subtle or blatant placing of our hope in fortune. When we do this our focus shifts away from our hope and trust in God's providence.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
     From where does my help come?
My help comes from the
Lord,
     who
made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2

Should you buy a lottery ticket or not. Well its up to you. Can you do so without shifting the focus of your hope in Christ? If buying a lottery ticket fills you with dreams of a better life perhaps you should not.

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Sign of The Cross

In my sermon this past Sunday I mentioned that early Christians made the sign of the cross upon themselves as they left their homes. I mentioned this as a simple practice that helps keep us mindful of God and one that we all have time for. Making the sign of the Cross upon our bodies is a physical act that assists our prayer. It is not a replacement for prayer but is a way of assisting our whole selves to pray.

“In all our actions, when we come in or go out, when we dress, when we wash, at our meals, before resting to sleep, we make on our forehead the Sign of the Cross. These practices are not commended to us by a formal law of Scripture, but tradition teaches them, custom confirms them, and faith observes them.” (Tertullian c. 190 - c. 230)

Other physical postures we regularly use are standing, lifting our hands in worship, kneeling. At ordinations, the soon to be ordained often lay prostrate on the floor in a physical act of submission to God. People who seek a richer prayer life are usually encouraged to cultivate a place and time of regular prayer. This helps eliminate distractions. People know this intuitively. It's why most people sit in the same pew every week and why, when "our" pew is occupied the experience of worship is a little bit off. What we do with our bodies impacts our prayers. Making the sign of the Cross has a positive impact.

When we face temptation making the sign of the cross helps us focus ourselves and resist by turning back to Jesus who died for our sins. We remind ourselves of His sacrifice and the temptation diminishes in urgency. It would be nice if it went away entirely but that is a matter for many prayers.

“When tempted, always reverently seal your forehead with the Sign of the Cross. For this sign of the Passion is a symbol openly combatting the devil if you make it in faith, not in order that you may be seen by others, but consciously putting it forth like a shield.” (Hippolytus c. 170–c. 236)

There is nothing magical about making the sign of the cross. It is an act of faith not a talisman. It helps focus us. It is a physical accompaniment. Such as when people dip their finger in a Baptismal Font and make the sign of the cross. We are a people who are baptized into Jesus death and ressurection. Making the sign of the cross in this way helps us remind ourselves that we are safe so long as we remain in the waters of baptism.

But we, being little fishes, as Jesus Christ is our great fish, are born in the water, and we are safe only so long as we remain in the water. (Tertullian, Concerning Baptism c. 190 - c. 230)

No one needs to make a sign of the cross and indeed some Christians do not feel comfortable doing so. It is not part of their tradition. If its not part of yours no worries. Its utterly optional. Feel free to try it on. See if its helpful to you.

If you would like to read more about making the sign of the cross here is an interesting article on Wikipedia that goes into the differences between the Eastern and Western Church.

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