Gratitude   Leave a comment

Above:  Home to Thanksgiving, Circa 1867

Image Creator = Currier & Ives

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-pga-00780

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FOR THANKSGIVING DAY, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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O God, we praise you, we give you thanks for your bountiful providence,

for all the blessings and all the hopes of life.

Above all we praise and adore you for your unspeakable gift

in your only Son our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Let the memory of your goodness fill our hearts with joy and thankfulness to you;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 163

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Deuteronomy 8:7-18

Psalm 22

2 Corinthians 9:6-12

Luke 12:16-31

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The extravagant generosity of God, on whom we depend completely, is one theme in these assigned readings.  Another is the reality that grace, although free, is not cheap; it imposes certain obligations on its recipients.  Those who enter a land new to them must not imagine that they have succeeded by their own power when God has delivered them into that land.  One must never think vainly that life consists of the abundance of possessions.  One must trust in God in times of plenty as well as in times of scarcity.  One must help others as one is able.

For where your treasure is,

there your heart will be also.

–Luke 12:34, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Psalm 22 might seem like an odd pericope for Thanksgiving Day.  The text, a prayer for deliverance from a mortal illness, might remind one immediately of the crucifixion of Jesus (Mark 15:34), for example.  The psalm does take a turn toward gratitude early on, however.  The text is of a mixed mood until the end, when gratitude takes over.  The mixed mood of much of Psalm 22 is true to life.  We might feel forsaken by God, but we are probably not.  If we continue the spiritual struggle with despair long enough, we will understand that.  As we suffer, God keeps us company.  The light of God might seem brighter in the darkness, and we might find ourselves more grateful than we expected we would.  This is my experience.

A helpful spiritual practice I have adopted is to thank God for blessings throughout the day.  I do this quietly, in my non-demonstrative, introverted way.  I thank God that my car is consistently reliable, but especially at a particular moment.  I thank God that the sunlight shines beautifully on the Middle Oconee River.  I thank God that I enjoy reading good books–one particular book at a given moment, specifically.  I thank God that I have plenty of nutritious food readily available.  I thank God for many blessings over time.  Whatever is on my mind or in front of me dictates what I thank God for at any given moment.  I admit freely that I do not thank God as often as I should, but I continue to endeavor to become more mindful.  Anyhow, the goal is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, not to compile a comprehensive list, which would be impossible anyway.  I understand that I rely completely on God, who has provided abundantly.  The least I can do is to be grateful and act accordingly.

Where are our treasures?  May it be in God.  May we be grateful daily.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 15, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER AND MARTYR

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Peace With Justice   Leave a comment

Above:  Apotheosis of War, by Vasily Vereshchagin

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR WORLD ORDER SUNDAY, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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O God, the King of righteousness, lead us in ways of justice and peace;

inspire us to break down all tyranny and oppression,

to gain for all people their due reward, and from all people their due service,

that each may live for all and may care for each;

in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 191

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Micah 4:1-5

Psalm 43

James 4:1-12

Matthew 5:43-48

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The theme of World Order Sunday, in October, was peace with justice.

The prophet Micah predicted a glorious future in which Jerusalem would be the political and spiritual center of the world, complete with Gentiles streaming to the holy city to study the Torah.  Another aspect of that prediction was the end of warfare.

That remains an unfulfilled prediction, unfortunately.  Psalm 43, James 4:1-12, and Matthew 5:43-48 remain as relevant as when each was a new texts.  The causes of conflict, as always, are troubled people.  Yet we can, by grace, love our enemies and seek their redemption, not their destruction, or at least leave them alone and get on with our lives.  Sometimes the former is unattainable initially, but the latter is a good start.  It is certainly better than nursing a grudge.

Whoever said

You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy

was not quoting the Jewish Bible.  Certain revenge fantasies in the Book of Psalms aside, Leviticus 19:18 forbade seeking vengeance or bearing a grudge against fellow Hebrews and ordered people to love the neighbors as they loved themselves.  Jesus made the commandment universal.  He also challenged his followers to be perfect–in this case, suited for one’s purpose.

In Christ one’s purpose entails being filled with God’s love, not seeking revenge or nursing grudges.  That is a great challenge, one we can accomplish only via divine power.  When we struggle with that challenge, at least we are trying; that much is positive.

On stages ranging from the individual to the global the peace of sweeping the past under the proverbial rug is a brittle and temporary one.  Although confession need not necessarily precede forgiveness, honesty regarding what one has done is a crucial component of clearing the air mutually.  Once the naming of the sins has ended, a new relationship founded on honesty and shalom can begin.  Getting there can be quite difficult–even emotionally taxing and politically inconvenient–but it is worthwhile.  It is also the way we will avoid blowing ourselves up.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 15, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER AND MARTYR

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With God There Are Leftovers, Part III   Leave a comment

Above:  Labor Day, by Samuel D. Ehrhart, 1909

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-26406

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FOR LABOR SUNDAY (THE FIRST SUNDAY IN SEPTEMBER), ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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O Lord and heavenly Father, we commend to your care and protection the men and women

of this land who are suffering distress and anxiety through lack of work.

Strengthen and support them, and so prepare the counsels of those who govern our industries

that your people may be set free from want and fear to work in peace and security,

for the relief of their necessities, and the well-being of this realm;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), pages 156-157

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Amos 5:11-15

Psalms 2 and 71

Colossians 3:23-25

John 6:5-14, 26-27

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Economic justice is one of the themes in the Book of Amos.  More to the point the lack and moral imperative of economic justice is a theme in the Book of Amos.  This emphasis is consistent with the Law of Moses, much of which rests on the following principles:

  1. We depend completely on God.
  2. We depend on each other.
  3. We are responsible to each other.
  4. We are responsible for each other.
  5. We have no right to exploit one another.

Yet, of course, people do exploit one another.  Thus there are always people who implore God, in the words of Psalm 71, to rescue them

from the clutches of the wicked,

from the grasp of the rogue and the ruthless.

–Psalm 71:4b, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

One lesson from the Feeding of the Five Thousand, present in each of the four canonical Gospels, is that scarcity is a component of human, not divine economy.  With God there are leftovers.  This reality shines a critical light on human economic systems.

Work can be drudgery, but it need not be that.  Work at its best, is vocation–the intersection of one’s greatest joys and the world’s deepest needs.  Work, when it is what it should be, is a way to meet needs–not just one’s necessities, but those of others also.  It can be a way of exercising one’s responsibilities to and for other people in the divine economy, where a little bit goes a long way and there are always leftovers.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 15, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER AND MARTYR

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God Cares, Part V   Leave a comment

Above:  Salonica, Greece, 1913

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-66142

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FOR THE FOURTEENTH SUNDAY OF KINGDOMTIDE, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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O Lord, you have promised that whatsoever we do to

the least of your brethren you will receive as done to you:

Give us grace to be ever willing and ready, as you enable us,

to minister to the necessities of our fellow human beings;

in your name we pray.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 155

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Isaiah 40:1-5

Psalm 53

2 Thessalonians 1:3-5, 11-12; 2:1-2, 13-15

Luke 17:20-25

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The standard English-language translations of Psalms 14 and 53 (nearly identical poems) do not do justice to the texts.  For example, the fools are actually wicked people.  Also, the wicked do not deny the existence of God.  No, they claim that God does not care.  That attitude explains why they feel free to continue in their wickedness.

That God cares is a point the readings affirm.  God cares enough to have ended the Babylonian Exile.  God cares enough to have brought about the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as Jesus of Nazareth, who identified with us and our suffering.

God cares about us deeply.  We can never reciprocate fully, but God does not expect us to do the impossible, fortunately.  We can, however, respond faithfully to God.  On concrete measure of this caring is the manner in which we treat our fellow human beings.  Each of us falls short by that standard, but we can improve, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILARY OF POITIERS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS, “ATHANASIUS OF THE WEST,” AND HYMN WRITER; MENTOR OF SAINT MARTIN OF TOURS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF TOURS

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN KEIMANN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT KENTIGERN (MUNGO), ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF GLASGOW

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGUERITE BOURGEOYS, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME

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Moral Renewal   Leave a comment

Above:   Cyrus II

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY OF KINGDOMTIDE, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Almighty God, in a world of change you have placed eternity in our hearts

and have given us power to discern good from evil:

Grant us sincerity that we may persistently seek the things that endure,

refusing those which perish, and that, amid things vanishing and deceptive,

we may see the truth steadily, follow the light faithfully,

and grow ever richer in that love which is the life of the people;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 155

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Ezra 1:2-4; 3:10-13

Psalm 51

Jude 17-21, 24-25

Luke 13:22-24, 34-35

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The readings from Mark 13 and Jude share the warning to avoid following false teachers and to remain in eternal life, which, according to John 17:3, is knowing God via Jesus.  In Mark 13 and Jude this warning comes in the context of apocalyptic expectations.  Mark 13 also occurs in the context of the imminent crucifixion of Jesus.  The question of how to identify false teachers is an important one.  This is frequently a difficult matter, given the reality of the existence of theological blind spots.  If one backs up just one verse to Jude 16, however, we read a description of false teachers:

They are a set of grumblers and malcontents.  They follow their lusts.  Bombast comes rolling from their lips, and they court favour to gain their ends.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

That helps somewhat.

False teachers distract us from God, in whom we can have new beginnings.  The new beginning in Ezra 1 and 3 (Chapter 2 is a list of returning exiles.) culminates in the laying and dedication of the foundation of the Second Temple at Jerusalem.  The narrative of the construction of that Temple continues through Chapter 6.  In The Episcopal Church we read Psalm 51, a prayer for healing and moral renewal, on Ash Wednesday.  Moral renewal is of the essence.

That is also a frequently disputed project.  What constitutes moral renewal?  I know enough about history to be able to speak or write extemporaneously about “moral” defenses of offenses including serfdom, chattel slavery, Apartheid, Jim Crow laws, and the economic exploitation of industrial workers.  Anyone who defends any of those sins in any circumstance needs moral renewal.  All of those sins violate the law of love, which is a helpful guide for determining what is moral.

The truth is that all of us need moral renewal.  The most pious and kind-hearted person has the need of moral renewal in some parts of his or her life.  We can find that renewal by turning to God and avoiding false teachers, many of whom offer easy answers to difficult questions.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILARY OF POITIERS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS, “ATHANASIUS OF THE WEST,” AND HYMN WRITER; MENTOR OF SAINT MARTIN OF TOURS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF TOURS

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN KEIMANN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT KENTIGERN (MUNGO), ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF GLASGOW

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGUERITE BOURGEOYS, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME

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Four Houses   Leave a comment

Above:   The Clemency of Cyrus II to the Hebrews

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE TWELFTH SUNDAY OF KINGDOMTIDE, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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You, O God, are the Holy One who inhabits eternity:

Visit us with the inward vision of your glory, that we who bow our hearts before you,

and obtain that grace you have promised to the lovely;

through Jesus Christ our Saviour.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 155

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Haggai 1:3-9; 2:2-3

Psalm 49

2 Peter 3:8-14

Matthew 7:24-29

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The themes of trusting in and demonstrating reverence for God, motifs in the Bible, recur in these assigned readings.  Haggai 1 and 2 concern the construction of the Second Temple at Jerusalem.  The delayed start of that project indicates a lack of respect, we read.  When we return to Psalm 49 we read that people should trust not in riches, which they cannot take with them after they die, but in God alone.  The lesson from 2 Peter reminds s that we should be grateful that God is patient, granting numerous opportunities for repentance.  Judgment will come eventually, after all.  Once again we read of the balance of divine judgment and mercy.  The parable in Matthew 7 reminds us to build on the rock of God–Jesus, in particular–not to take the quick and easy way that leads to destruction when the rains fall, the floods come, and the winds blow.

That parable contains echoes of wisdom literature.  In Proverbs 9:1-6 we read of the house that Lady Wisdom (the personification of divine wisdom) has built, and to which she has invited fools to the banquet of repentance.  Then, in Proverbs 14:1 we read:

Wisdom builds herself a house;

with her own hands Folly pulls it down.

The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

The storms in the parable are, in the context of the New Testament, the consequences to Christians for following Jesus, not Roman imperial social norms.  One, without committing the error of mistaking serial contrariness for piety, can legitimately replace Roman imperial social norms with the patterns of one’s society that run contrary to the ethics of Jesus.  One might even successfully invite fools to the banquet of repentance, by grace.

Lady Wisdom continues to build her house.  Lady Folly persists in attempting to demolish it.  May Lady Wisdom win the struggle.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILARY OF POITIERS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS, “ATHANASIUS OF THE WEST,” AND HYMN WRITER; MENTOR OF SAINT MARTIN OF TOURS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF TOURS

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN KEIMANN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT KENTIGERN (MUNGO), ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF GLASGOW

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGUERITE BOURGEOYS, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME

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With God There Are Leftovers, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:   The Traditional Site of the Feeding of the Five Thousand

Image Source = Library of Congress

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FOR THE ELEVENTH SUNDAY OF KINGDOMTIDE, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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O God, you are the author of peace and lover of concord,

in knowledge of whom stands our eternal life,

whose service is perfect freedom:

Defend us your humble servants in all assaults of our enemies, that we,

surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries;

through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 155

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Zephaniah 3:8-13

Psalm 52

1 John 2:24-25, 28-29; 3:1-2

Mark 6:31-44

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Three of the four readings contain a balance of divine judgment and mercy.  Often judgment on the wicked constitutes mercy for their victims.  If one extends the readings from Zephaniah and 1 John (to Zephaniah 3:8-20 and 1 John 2:22-3:3), one gets a fuller understanding of those passages than if one omits certain verses.  The Book of Zephaniah is mostly about divine judgment.  After more than two chapters of doom mercy breaks through about halfway through Chapter 3, however.  Humility before God is indeed a virtue Zephaniah emphasizes; the haughty receive judgment.  With regard to 1 John 2 and 3, the reminder to dwell in Christ and rejoice in being children of God is always positive to hear or read again.

The power and grace of God, a theme in the other readings, is in full, extravagant force in Mark 6:30-44, one of the four canonical accounts of the Feeding of the Five Thousand.  Each account is slightly different yet mostly identical.  In Mark we read that Jesus fed “five thousand men.”  In Matthew 14, we read, Jesus fed “about five thousand men, besides women and children.”  In Luke 9 our Lord and Savior, we read, fed “about five thousand men.”  Finally we read in John 6 feeding about five thousand people.  Oral tradition tends to have a flexible spine; the core of a story remains constant, but minor details vary.  The variation in details in the Feeding of the Five Thousand does nothing to observe the core of the story.  The generosity of God is extravagant.  Furthermore, with God there are leftovers.

God chooses to work with our humble and inadequate resources then to multiply them.  Each of us might feel like the overwhelmed Apostles, who wondered legitimately what good five loaves and two fish would do.  The faithful response of humility before God acknowledges one’s own insufficiency and relies on God, however.  And why not?  With God there are leftovers.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILARY OF POITIERS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS, “ATHANASIUS OF THE WEST,” AND HYMN WRITER; MENTOR OF SAINT MARTIN OF TOURS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF TOURS

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN KEIMANN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT KENTIGERN (MUNGO), ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF GLASGOW

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGUERITE BOURGEOYS, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME

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