Are There Ashtrays in Your Elevators?

Scripture Focus: Numbers 5.5-8
5 The Lord said to Moses, 6 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty 7 and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged. 8 But if that person has no close relative to whom restitution can be made for the wrong, the restitution belongs to the Lord and must be given to the priest, along with the ram with which atonement is made for the wrongdoer.

Reflection: Are There Ashtrays in Your Elevators?
By John Tillman

God’s law is clear. Harming others is sin against God. There is no way in which a person can be harmed that is not connected to sin. Thinking about systemic sin and harm to others always reminds me of ashtrays in elevators. 

If you happen to see an ashtray in an elevator, I’d recommend taking the stairs. That elevator is old.

When smoking was viewed as innocuous, even healthful, it was incorporated into every aspect of life. From the 60s to the 80s, ashtrays were a ubiquitous normality of architecture and design. They appeared on every surface like not-so-secret compartments with nifty little sliding, rotating, or opening panels. Like light switches, they were built into the walls of hallways, offices, and hospital rooms. They were in desks and bathroom stalls and above every urinal. Some cars had more ashtrays than seatbelts. Airlines installed them in armrests both in terminals and in planes. But most memorable to me, for some reason, were the ones in elevators. Not even for the brief time of riding in an elevator, could people do without an ashtray.

Even as society realized that smoking was literally killing people, this didn’t change. We clung to personal freedom in defiance of scientific revelations. It was only when we recognized that cigarette smoke was not only harmful to the smoker but to everyone else in the elevators and other public spaces, that smoking “rights” began to be curtailed.

Is smoking a sin? Perhaps. But sin is absolutely like smoking. 

In the individualistic West, we think of sin mostly as personal choices that only affect the individual. However, there are no sins that only harm ourselves. Sin is not just what happens inside our minds, souls, or bodies. Sin creates a transcendent cloud of tangible and intangible damage. This damage may be physical, economic, or cultural. Sin poisons everyone in our atmosphere.

Like ashtrays in elevators, there are always systemic, tangible, widespread, societal enablements of sins, especially if we think of them as innocuous. Let’s examine ourselves with sober judgment.

Are there ashtrays in your elevators? What in your life indicates an enabling of sin?
What sins do you think of as innocuous? Are you using personal freedom as an excuse for actions which harm others?
What harm to others do you need to repent of? What support structures of sins need to be ripped out of the walls of your life?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The Lord is near to those who call upon him, to all who call upon him faithfully. — Psalm 145.19

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Numbers 5 (Listen – 4:39)
Psalms 39 (Listen – 1:49)

Read more about Steeped In Sin
Sin is gravity. It is our atmosphere. It is our water. We are radioactive with sin.

Read more about Suffering and Sin
We feel less responsible when we believe only the lazy are poor, only the promiscuous are in danger of sexual assault, only hedonists become addicts, and only nihilists suffer depression.

Prayer Amidst Evil :: Guided Prayer

Psalm 37.7
Be still before the Lord
   and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
   when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Reflection: Prayer Amidst Evil :: Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

As we celebrate the Easter season, we seek to continue to “throw our hats in the air” in celebration of the victory won by Christ. Yet we still sojourn in a sin-scarred world, filled with loss, sorrow, and pain.

We grieve this week with Christian brothers and sisters across our world. We lift up the burned churches in Louisiana, the burned cathedral of Notre Dame, the bombed churches of Sri Lanka, and the churches of Nigeria whose members are being gunned down in violent attacks. These are our churches, too, for we are one in Christ.

Christ promised we would have trouble in this world, and many people are willing to aid that promise coming true. The world’s powers and governments, in vain, promise us that they can prevent future suffering. But in Christ’s promise we know that until he comes to end this world and begin the next, there will always be a “next time.” Often the perpetrators of “next time” will be the very governments who, in the name of protection, ask for our unwavering support and pressure us to yield to them unrestricted power.

The inevitable next tragedy will come. Whether it is the result of unthinking violence, tragic accident, or premeditated and targeted hatred, we turn to God in prayer, trusting that in past, present, and future sufferings, his grace is sufficient for us.

Prayer Amidst Evil
Lord, we come mourning.
Our eyes flow with tears and our hearts bleed
On behalf of our brothers and sisters.

Be still before the Lord
   and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
   when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Lord, when we suffer…
When our houses of worship are burned
When our sanctuaries flow with bloodshed
When our fellowship is disrupted by violent killers
May we turn to you.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
   do not fret—it leads only to evil…
A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
   though you look for them, they will not be found.
The Lord laughs at the wicked,
   for he knows their day is coming.

We don’t need vengeance, Lord.
Vengeance belongs to you.
We don’t need worldly power, Lord.
Yours is the power we need.
We don’t need violent reprisals, Lord.
Repentance and revival is needed.

Work in us, to bring this to pass.
Pass by us, and call us to follow.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, grant me your peace.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 3 (Listen – 6:01) 
Psalm 37 (Listen – 4:21)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 4 (Listen – 6:11) Psalm 38 (Listen – 2:14)
Numbers 5 (Listen – 4:39) Psalm 39 (Listen – 1:49)

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Read more about Truth Unwanted :: A Guided Prayer
Making Jesus known will lead to suffering and rejection. As the world investigates Jesus in our lives, we can expect the same treatment that Jesus received. May we do so, knowing that he is with us in all our suffering.

Read more about The Prayer From the Cross
Join Christ in his suffering, praying excerpts from this psalm prayed on the cross, ending with excerpts from Psalm 30 from our reading for today.