Archive for August 2011

Wrestling with God, Part I   1 comment

Above: Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Gustave Dore

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Genesis 32:22-32 (An American Translation):

That same night he [Jacob] arose, and taking his two wives, his two female slaves, and his eleven children, he sent them across the ford of the Jabbok.  He took them, and sent them across the stream, and everything that belonged to him across.  Jacob himself was left behind all alone.  Then a man wrestled with him until daybreak, and when he found that he could not master him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh, so that the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated as he wrestled him.  Then he said,

Let me go; for the dawn is breaking.

But he replied,

I will not let you go, unless you bless me.

He said to him,

What is your name?

He replied,

Jacob.

Then he said,

Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel [wrestler with God], because you have wrestled with God and man, and have been the victor.

Jacob requested,

Please tell me your name.

He replied,

Why is it that you ask for my name?

Nevertheless he blessed him there.

So Jacob called the name of that place Peniel (face of God];

For,

said he,

I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been spared.

The sun rose on him just as he passed Penuel, limping because of his thigh.  That is why to this day the Israelites do not eat the hip muscle which is on the socket of the thigh; for the socket of Jacob’s thigh was touched on the hip muscle.

Psalm 17:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hear my plea of innocence, O LORD;

give heed to my cry;

listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.

Let my vindication come forth from your presence;

let your eyes be fixed on justice.

Weigh my heart, summon me by night,

melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

I give no offence with my mouth as others do;

I have heeded the words of your lips.

My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law;

in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me;

incline your ear to me and hear my words.

Show me your marvelous loving-kindness,

O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand

from those who rise up against them.

Keep me as the apple of your eye;

hide me under the shadow of your wings.

Matthew 9:32-38 (An American Translation):

But just as they were going out, some people brought to him a dumb man who was possessed by a demon, and as soon as the demon was driven out, the dumb man was able to speak.  And the crowds were amazed, and said,

Nothing like this was ever seen in Israel!

But the Pharisees said,

It is by the prince of demons that he drives them out.

Jesus went round among all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness.

But the sight of the crowds of people filled him with pity for them, because they were bewildered and dejected, like sheep that have no shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples,

The harvest is abundant enough, but the reapers are few.  So pray to the owner of the harvest to send reapers to gather it.

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The Collect:

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Jacob, literally the “supplanter,” was on his way to meet with Esau, his estranged brother.  Jacob had spent the previous three chapters and over 14 years in the shadow of Laban, his father-in-law, who had tricked him and whom he had manipulated.  With that dispute settled, there was older unfinished business to settle.  Jacob did not know what Esau’s mood would be.

So, one night, Jacob faced God in the flesh.  Sometimes certain Hebrew texts use “God” and “angel” interchangeably, but the meaning in Genesis 32:22-32 is that Jacob wrestled with God incarnate.  He held on and persisted through the night and received a new name, Israel (meaning “wrestler with God,” “contender with God,” “God rules,” et cetera), and a limp, but he survived mostly intact.  Jacob was a changed man in more than one way.

We ought to take comfort in such stories.  Jacob, despite his flaws, was a chosen instrument of God.  Note also that God instigated the wrestling match.

Submission to God is the chief moral virtue in Islam.  Yet one of the pivotal stories in the Hebrew Bible is one of a man and God wrestling, with God starting the match.  Struggling and arguing with God is a key element in multiple Hebrew Bible stories; consider Job, for example.  He argued with God until God answered.  Whoever coined the cliche “the patience of Job” did not understand that book well.

And, although our flaws might not be as dramatic as those of Jacob, our imperfections do have consequences for ourselves and others.  Yet God can work through us, too.

I posit that a vital detail in the account from Genesis is that Jacob grasped God and refused to let go.  The man who struggled with God did so while grasping God; there was a relationship with the deity.

I contrast this with the response of Pharisees to Jesus’ healing of a mute man.  Demon possession was a common diagnosis for muteness, epilepsy, and many other conditions, so who knows what caused the man’s inability to speak?  But, whatever it was, Jesus cured it.  And some tradition-moribund religious people chose not to wrestle (metaphorically) with this incarnation of God.  If they had, they might have discovered answers and changed their lives and those of others.

After reading and studying the Bible for most years of my life, and after years of attempts (of varying degrees of effort and success) of faithful living, I have learned many lessons.  Among them is this:  God is frequently surprising.  God does not fit into our artificial theological boxes.  We never have God figured out.  Yes, we can understand partially, but that is as far as we can go.  So, as useful as traditions can be, a spiritual wrestling match now and then can prove much more helpful.

By the way, Jacob and Esau reconciled then parted company;  Jacob’s fears proved false.  And Jacob became the father of the men whose names continue as Hebrew tribes.  There is no tribe of Joseph, but two tribes carry the names of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.  And there was no tribal land allotment to the Levites.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 21, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/21/week-of-proper-9-tuesday-year-1/

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Posted August 26, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Genesis 32, Islam, Matthew 9, Psalm 17

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God = Hope   1 comment

Above: Jacob’s Ladder, by William Blake (Circa 1800)

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Genesis 28:10-22 (An American Translation):

Leaving Beersheba, Jacob set out for Haran.  Reaching a certain sanctuary, he spent the night there.  He took one of the stones of the sanctuary, and using it for a pillow, he lay down in that sanctuary.  He had a dream in which he saw a ladder set up on the earth, with its top reaching the sky, and angels of God were ascending and descending on it,  Then the LORD stood over him, and said,

I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and of Isaac.  The land on which you are lying, I am going to give to you and your descendants.  Your descendants shall be like the dust on the ground; you shall spread to the west, to the east, to the north, and to the south, so that all the races of the earth will invoke blessings on one another through you and your descendants.  I will be with you, and guard you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land; for I will never forsake you, until I have done what I have promised you.

When Jacob woke from his sleep, he said,

The LORD must surely be in this place–and I did not know it!

He was awe-struck, and said,

What an awesome place this is!  This can be nothing other the house of God, and that the gate of the sky.

Accordingly, he called the name of that sanctuary Bethel [house of God] whereas the earlier name of the city had been Luz.

So when Jacob rose in the morning, he took the stone which he had used as a pillow, and setting it up as a sacred pillar, he poured oil on its top.  Jacob then made this vow:

If God go with me, and watch over me on this journey that I am making, and give me food to eat and clothes to wear, so that I come home safely to my father’s house, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone which I have set up as a sacred pillar shall be God’s house, and I will give to thee a portion of everything that thou givest me.

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High,

abides under the shadow of the Almighty.

He shall say to the LORD,

“You are my refuge and my stronghold,

my God in whom I put my trust.”

He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter,

and from the deadly pestilence.

4 He shall cover you with his pinions,

and you shall find refuge under his wings.

You shall not be afraid of any terror by night,

nor of the arrow that flies by day;

Of the plague that stalks in the darkness,

nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day.

14 Because he is bound to me in love,

therefore I will deliver him;

I will protect him, because he knows my name.

15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;

I am with him in trouble;

I will rescue him and bring him to honor.

16 With long life will I satisfy him,

and show him my salvation.

Matthew 9:18-26 (An American Translation):

Just as he [Jesus] said this to them, an official came up to him and bowing down before him said to him,

My daughter has just died.  But come!  Lay your hand on her and she will come to life!

And Jesus got up and followed him with his disciples.  And a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel of his cloak.  For she said to herself,

If I can just touch his cloak, I will get well.

And Jesus turned and saw her, and he said,

Courage, my daughter!  Your faith has cured you!

And from that time the woman was well.

When Jesus reached the official’s house,and saw the flute-players and the disturbance the crowd was making, he said,

Go away, for the girl is not dead; she is asleep.

And they laughed at him.  But when he had driven the people out, he went in and grasped herhand, and the girl got up.  And the news of this spread all over that part of the country.

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The Collect:

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Jacob was a schemer, far from a pillar of faith and integrity.  He had stolen his brother’s Esau birthright and paternal blessing.  And Jacob enjoyed the company of Hittite women, a fact which disturbed Rebekah, his mother.  So he was off (per orders) to visit the household of his kinsman Laban and meet a suitable wife.

Along his way, Jacob had to sleep on a rocky hilltop.  It was a barren, foreboding place, but it was what was available.  There Jacob had a dream; This was a gateway to heaven itself, and he was indeed the heir to God’s promise to Abraham.

This dream impressed Jacob deeply, for it filled him with reverence for God.

God does not call the qualified; God qualifies the called.

God came to Jacob, an unexpected person, in an unusual way.  And God, via Jesus, came to desperate people in ways onlookers did not expect.  The woman with a hemorrhage had a severe physical problem that rendered her ritually unclean and that deprived her of a means of supporting herself.  The physical condition was bad, but the stigma compounded her pain.  She approached Jesus, and he restored her to wholeness, health, and ritual cleanliness.

It makes sense that Jesus had compassion on her.  His existence was a scandal, and if anyone knew the sting of stigma, he did.  Some people did not refer to him as “Son of Joseph,” per the norm in his society, but as “Son of Mary,” slurring his mother’s sexual history and his paternity.  The human potential for cruelty toward the vulnerable, despised, and marginalized was old in Jesus’ time, and he refused to participate in that process.

This is another excellent reason for us to refuse, as well.

The Jewish community elder had a dead daughter.  The desperate father asked Jesus to help her, a request which led to the first instance of a raising from the dead in the Gospel of Matthew.  Of course the claim that the girl was not dead, only sleeping, seemed ridiculous.  But what other hope did the father have?

And what hope of becoming anything other than schemer did Jacob have?  How possible did it seem that, after twelve years, the woman could be healed and restored to society?  They all seemed dim, did they not?

But consider what happened, and become filled with awe.  Then respond accordingly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 20, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF KATHARINA VON BORA LUTHER, WIFE OF MARTIN LUTHER

THE FEAST OF PETER CANISIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/week-of-proper-9-monday-year-1/

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Posted August 26, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Genesis 28, Matthew 9, Psalm 91

Tagged with , , , ,

God Works Through Unexpected Means Sometimes   1 comment

Above: Isaac Blessing Jacob, by Govert Flinck (1638)

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Genesis 27:1-9, 15-29 (An American Translation):

One day, when Isaac was old and his eyes so dim that he could not see, he called his older son Esau.

My son!

he said to him.

Here I am,

he replied.

He said,

Here I am an old man, not knowing what day I may die.  Get your weapons, then, your quiver and bow, and go out into the fields, and hunt some game for me.  Then make me a tasty dish, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, that I may give you my blessing before I die.

Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac when Isaac spoke to his son Esau; so when Esau went off to the fields to hunt game for his father, Rebekah said to her son Jacob,

I have just heard your father say to your brother Esau, “Bring me some game, and make me a tasty dish to eat, that I may bless you before the LORD before I die.”  Now then, my son, obey me in the charge that I give you.  Go to the flock and get two fat kids for me there, that I may make them into a tasty dish for your father, such as he likes….

…and taking the best clothes of her older son Esau, which she had in the house, Rebekah dressed her younger son Jacob in them; she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth parts of his neck, and committed the tasty dish and bread which she had made into the hands of her son Jacob.  Then he went in to his father, and said,

Father!

He said,

Yes.  Who are you, my son?

Jacob said to his father,

I am Esau, your first-born; I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat once more of my game, that you may give me your blessing.

But Isaac said to his son,

How ever did you come to find it so quickly, my son?

He said,

Because the LORD your God brought it in my path.

Isaac then said to Jacob,

Come up close that I may feel you, my son, to see whether you really are my son Esau or not.

So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him, and said,

The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are those of Esau.

Hence he did not detect him, because his hands were hairy, like those of his brother Esau; so he blessed him.

Are you really my son Esau?

he said.

I am,

he replied.

So he said,

Bring me some of your game to eat, my son, that I may give you my blessing.

So he brought it to him, and he ate; he also brought him wine, and he drank.  Then his father Isaac said to him,

Come here and kiss me, my son.

So he went up and kissed him; and when he smelt his clothes, he blessed him, saying,

Ah, my son’s smell is like that of a field tht the LORD has blessd.

May God give you of the heaven’s dew,

Of earth’s fatness, with plenty of grass and wine!

Nations shall serve you,

And peoples bow down to you.

Be master of your brothers,

And let your mother’s sons bow down to you!

Cursed be they who curse you,

And blessed b they who bless you!

Psalm 135:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hallelujah!

Praise the Name of the LORD;

give praise, you servants of the LORD.

2 You who stand in the house of the LORD,

in the courts of the house of our God.

3 Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good;

sing praises to his Name, for it is lovely.

4 For the LORD has chosen Jacob for himself

and Israel for his own possession.

For I know that the LORD is great,

and that our Lord is above all gods.

The LORD does whatever pleases him, in heaven and on earth,

in the seas and all the deeps.

Matthew 9:14-17 (An American Translation):

Then the disciples of John came up to him [Jesus] and said,

Why is it that we and the Pharisees are keeping the fast, while your disciples are not keeping it?

Jesus said to them,

Can wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  But a time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and they will fast then.  But no one sews a patch of unshrunken cloth on an old coat, for the patch will tear away from the coat, and make the hole worse than ever.  And people do not put new wine into old wine-skins, or if they do, the skins burst, and the wine runs out and the skins are spoiled.  But people put new wine into fresh wine skins, and so both are saved.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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The Bible is brutally honest about many major figures with whom the reader is supposed to sympathize.  Jacob, who becomes Israel, for whom the Jewish nation is named, is an opportunist.  Rebekah, his mother, is a schemer.  Isaac, his aged and blind father, seems not to be at the peak of his mental powers in Genesis 27.  And Esau, the trouble-maker, is twice an aggrieved party at the hand of his brother Jacob in Genesis.  Yet, according to an oracle in Genesis 25:33, Jacob is supposed to take precedence, and he does.  This happens by underhanded methods, but it comes true.

I dislike all these characters by Genesis 27, but Biblical writers want me to pick a side.  The Bible is a complicated volume.

In Matthew 9:14-17 we have a variation of the Markan teaching about wineskins and wine (Mark 2:18-22).  Matthew adds the “so both are saved” element.  So, in Matthew, there is value in traditions and innovations, but not all traditions and all innovations.  Consider the theology of the Gospel of Matthew:  Jesus praises Torah piety, but not many of those who claim to practice it; they get it wrong.  So Jesus (both old and new) breaks many traditions while keeping others.  His innovative variety of Torah piety is what people should have been keeping all along.  He scandalizes many respectable religious establishment types by eating with irreligious people and Roman collaborators, and by not fasting when others do.

Consider the Apostles of Jesus, too.  These were imperfect men.  They spent most of the timeframe of the Gospels squabbling and failing to understand even basic teachings.  Yet God worked through them, as much as God worked through Rebekah and Jacob.  And God works through us, who are quite flawed.

God is sovereign.  That is good news.  Are we willing to recognize both the old and new ways in which God works?

I have particular take on the old-new debate.  I belong to The Episcopal Church, which replaces its Book of Common Prayer from time to time.  To be precise, this has happened previously in 1789, 1892, 1928, and 1979.  Liturgical revision immediately prior to 1979 began in 1967, the proposed Prayer Book arrived in 1976, and the General Convention approved it three years later, but still some of my fellow Episcopalians refer to it as the “new” Prayer Book.  As I heard a catechist in the Diocese of Georgia ask in 2000, how old does the 1979 Prayer Book have to be before it ceases to be new?

We humans like our traditions, but we ought not transform them into idols.  No, they should be icons.  The difference is that an idol replaces God and distracts our attention from God.  But an icon is a visible representation of God, who is invisible; we see God through an icon.  A Prayer Book, like any tradition, ought to be a means to an end, not an end.  From time to time a new one arrives; there is room for both innovation and tradition.

As for me, the 1928 Prayer Book is a relic, a volume from which I have never worshiped.  I am a 1979 Prayer Booker.  It contains the best of its predecessor volumes while incorporating many pleasant innovations, not least of which is Eucharistic Prayer C from Holy Eucharist Rite II.  The book, like all products of human hands and minds, is imperfect.  But it is excellent, and through it God nourishes my spiritual life.  For that I am grateful.

It is an excellent wineskin.

This might surprise those oppose such formal liturgies, but so be it.  God works through them and their prayers, too.

God works in many ways, through many vehicles of various types.  Thanks be to God!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 18, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARC BOEGNER, ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY SAYERS, NOVELIST

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/18/week-of-proper-8-saturday-year-1/

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Posted August 26, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Genesis 27, Mark 2, Matthew 9, Psalm 135

Tagged with , , , ,

Arguing with God   3 comments

Above: The Sacrifice of Isaac (1603 version), by Caravaggio

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Genesis 22:1-19 (An American Translation):

Some time after this [the covenant with Abimelech] God put Abraham to the test.

Abraham!

he said to him.

Here am I,

he said.

Take your son,

he said,

your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and there offer him as a burnt-offering on one of the hills which I shall designate to you.

So next morning Abraham rose early, and harnessing his ass, he took two of his servants with him and his son Isaac, and having cut wood for the burnt-offering, he started off for the sanctuary which God had designated to him.  On the third day, when Abraham raised his eyes, he saw the sanctuary in the distance.  So Abraham said to his servants,

Stay here with the ass, while I and the boy go yonder to perform our devotions, after which we shall return to you.

So Abraham took the wood for the burnt-offering and put on the back of his son Isaac, while he carried in his own hand the fire and the knife.  So the two of them went off together.

Father!

said Isaac to his father Abraham.

Yes, my son,

he responded.

Here are the fire and the wood,

he said,

but where is the sheep for a burnt-offering?

Abraham said,

God will provide himself with the sheep for a burnt-offering, my son.

Thereupon the two of them proceeded on their way together.

When they had arrived at the sanctuary which God had designated to him, Abraham built the altar there, arranged the wood, and binding his son Isaac, laid him on the altar on top of the wood.  But as Abraham put out his hand to grasp the knife to slay his son, the angel of the LORD called to him from the heavens,

Abraham, Abraham!

He replied,

Here I am.

He said,

Do not lay hands on the boy, do nothing of the sort to him; for I know now that you revere God, in that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.

When Abraham raised his eyes, he saw behind him a ram caught in the brushwood by its horns!  So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt-offering in place of his son.  Then Abraham called the name of that sanctuary Yahweh-jireh, which today is interpreted as

At the hill of the LORD provision is made.

A second time the angel of the LORD called to Abraham from the heavens,

I swear by myself

–that is the oracle of the LORD–

that since you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and will surely make your descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky, or the sands of that are on the seashore, so that your descendants shall take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your descendants all the nations of the earth shall invoke blessings on one another–just because you have heeded my injunction.

Abraham then returned to his servants, and together they started off for Beersheba; and in Beersheba Abraham made his home.

Psalm 116:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication,

because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.

2 The cords of death entangled me;

the grip of the grave took hold of me;

O came to grief and sorrow.

3 Then I called upon the Name of the LORD;

“O LORD, I pray you, save my life.”

Gracious is the LORD and righteous;

our God is full of compassion.

5 The LORD watches over the innocent;

I was brought very low, and he helped me.

Turn again to your rest, O my soul,

for the LORD has treated you well.

7 For you have rescued my life from death,

my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.

8 I will walk in the presence of the LORD

in the land of the living.

Matthew 9:1-8 (An American Translation):

So he [Jesus] got into the boat and crossed the sea, and returned to his own city.

Some people came bringing to him on a bed a man who was paralyzed.  Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic,

Courage, my son!  Your sins are forgiven.

Some of the scribes said to themselves,

This man is talking blasphemy!

Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he said,

Why do you have such wicked thoughts in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk”?  But would you know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth.

Then he said to the paralytic,

Get up, pick up your bed, and go home!

And he got up and went home. And when the crowd saw it, they were filled with awe, and praised God for giving such power to men.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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I attended Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia, from 1993 to 1996.  During that time I belonged to and attended Christ Episcopal Church, across the street from the campus.  One year I attended the passion play at Park Avenue United Methodist Church.  The opening scene of “God Hath Provided the Lamb” was the near-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham.  The play reflected a traditional Christian interpretation of this horrible story, that of prefiguring the sacrifice of Jesus.  (The play also embraced Penal Substitutionary Atonement, another bad idea.)

Today, December 17, 2010, for the second time in a few days, I have typed out the entire text of Genesis 22:1-19.  The previous time I typed out the text according to the New Revised Standard Version for the Proper 8, Year A, Revised Common Lectionary post (http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/proper-8-year-a/).  This is one reading that rips out my heart every time.  How would you, O reader, feel if you were Isaac?  Abraham bargains with God for the lives of strangers in Genesis 18 yet never for that of his own flesh and blood.  The concept of obedience to God has that strong a hold over him.

Obviously, I reject the premise that God told Abraham to sacrifice his son.  Only a sadistic deity would do such a thing, and my image of God comes from Jesus, love incarnate.

Once I heard a brief comparison of Islam and Judaism.  The chief value in Islam is submitting to God, but people argue with God in Judaism.  I like arguing with God.  And what better time is there to argue with God than in defense of a family member?  If the argument does nothing else, it might clear up any confusion:  “Did you, O God, really command me to sacrifice my son?”  The best way to get an answer to ask a question.

In Matthew 9:1-8 Jesus is back home in Capernaum, where some friends bring a paralyzed man to be healed.  A common belief at the time and place held that physical ailments had their origin in sin, so perhaps the paralyzed man believed this.  His condition might have been psychosomatic.  Jesus addresses both sides–the spiritual/psychological and the physical–and receives criticism from religiously orthodox people of the time and place.  Was Jesus committing blasphemy by forgiving sins?

I note that these critics focused on their narrow theological concerns, not the well-being of the paralyzed man.  Therein resided their wickedness.  They needed to care about people more than abstract theology.  They failed to understand that the best theology finds expression not only in words but in compassionate deeds as well.

In Matthew 9:1-8 we have an example of when arguing with God was inappropriate.  Lest we content ourselves with praising Jesus and condemning his critics, we need to ask ourselves some difficult questions:  Who are we in this story?  Are we so bound to our own traditions that, if, were we of a different time, place, and culture, we would probably defend traditions and propositions we reject today?  These are questions of personality and spiritual type.

I answer for myself, and for myself alone.  I do not know where I would have stood in relation to Jesus under such hypothetical circumstances.  I like to think that I would have followed him, but this is just a hope.  I suspect that I would have been agnostic at best and critical at worst, for I prefer certain traditions.

Knowing when to argue with God can be difficult.  May we choose wisely.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARIA STEWART, EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB, FOUNDER OF SAVE THE CHILDREN

THE FEAST OF FRANK MASON NORTH, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER

THE FEAST OF SAINT OLYMPIAS, ORTHODOX DEACONESS

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/week-of-proper-8-thursday-year-1/

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Identifying with the Outcasts   1 comment

Above: The Casting Out of Hagar, by Gustave Dore

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Genesis 21:5, 8-21 (An American Translation):

…Abraham himself being one  hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

So the child grew and was weaned; and on the day that Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast.  But Sarah noticed the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac; so she said to Abraham,

Get rid of this slave-girl and her son; for the slave-girl’s son must not share the inheritance with my son Isaac.

The proposal, however, was very displeasing to Abraham, for his son’s sake; but God said to Abraham,

Do not be distressed for the boy and your slave; follow Sarah’s bidding in all that she tells you; for it is through Isaac that you are to have descendants bearing your name.  As for the slave-girl’s son, I will make a nation of him, too, because he is your child.

So next morning Abraham rose early, and taking some bread and a skin of water, he gave them to Hagar, along with her son, and putting them on her shoulder, he sent her away.  So she departed, and wandered about in the desert of Beersheba.  Then the water in the skin became exhausted, and throwing the child under one of the bushes, she went and sat down about a bowshot away;

For,

said she,

I cannot bear to see the child die!

So she sat down some way off, and lifted up her voice in weeping.

God, however, heard the boy’s cry, and the angel of God called from the heavens to Hagar, and said to her,

What is the matter with you, Hagar?  Fear not; for God has heard the boy’s cry, even here where he is.  Come, pick up the boy, and hold fast to him; for I am going to make a great nation of him.

Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water, whereupon she went and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.  So God was with the boy, and he grew up.  He lived in the desert, and became expert with the bow.  He settled in the desert of Paran, and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

Psalm 34:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

I will bless the LORD at all times;

his praise shall ever be in my mouth.

I will glory in the LORD;

let the humble hear and rejoice.

3 Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD;

let us exult his Name together.

I sought the LORD, and he answered me

and delivered me out of all my terror.

5 Look upon him and be radiant,

and let not your faces be ashamed.

I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me

and saved me from all my troubles.

The angel of the LORD encompasses those who fear him,

and he will deliver them.

Taste and see that the LORD is good;

happy are they who trust in him.

Matthew 8:28-34 (An American Translation):

When he [Jesus] reached the other side, in the region of Gadara, two men possessed by demons came out of the tombs and confronted him; they were so extremely violent that nobody could go along that road.  And they suddenly screamed out,

What so you want of us, you Son of God?  Have you come here before the appointed time to torture us?

Now at some distance from them there was a great drove of pigs feeding.  And the demons entreated him, saying,

If you are going to drive us out, send us into the drove of pigs.

And he said to them,

Begone!

And they came out and went into the pigs.  And suddenly the whole drove rushed over the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the water.  And the men who tended them ran away and went off to the town and told it all, and the news about the men possessed by demons.  And the whole town came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they begged him to go away from their district.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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Some people are inconvenient to us, so we think that they must be apart from us, for our own comfort.  This is a sin.

This day’s reading from Genesis comes from the Elohist, who was sympathetic to the lineage of Isaac.  So it is no surprise that this text depicts God as pro-Isaac.  Yet even the Elohist depicts Hagar and Ishmael kindly.  Recall that Hagar’s status as mother of Abraham’s firstborn son and the fact of Ishmael’s existence flowed from one of Sarah’s suggestions.  She was clearly in the wrong.

Tradition states that Ishmael became the father of the Arabs, for your information.  Jealousies continue, just for different reasons.  Human jealousies are like that too often.  But they ought to die more frequently than they do.

Genesis 21 says that God came to the aid of Hagar and Ishmael, saving their lives.  God was with the outcasts.

Speaking of outcasts, we have also the tale of the two demoniacs in Matthew 8.  Read Mark 5:1-20 and Luke 8:26-39 as well, for those texts have one demoniac.  These are clearly variants of the same story, down to the pigs.  Demon possession was a common diagnosis at the time of Jesus.  Today we would say epilepsy, schizophrenia, multiple personalities, or some other medical condition.  These men lived in tombs, at the edge of society.  Once healed, they could rejoin the social order.  Healing was often about more than correcting physical illnesses; there were also emotional, social, and psychological aspects.

The former demoniacs (or whatever they were) were grateful to Jesus.  Of course, those for whom the pigs provided income had a different opinion.

There was another reason to ask Jesus to leave, however.  The people knew who they were, or rather, who they were not, in relation to the demoniacs.  They were not those dangerous, sick people living in tombs.  So who were they now, that the men were well?  The social restoration of outcasts can disturb the self-defined insiders.  We humans tend to like the concept of outsiders, outcasts.  Their existence confirms that we are insiders.  But, with God, the number of insiders is far greater than according to human definitions.  And, if that disturbs us, we need to take this to God and repent.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 16, 2010 COMMON ERA 

THE FEAST OF GUSTAF AULEN, SWEDISH LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE, HOLY ROMAN EMPRESS

THE FEAST OF MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/week-of-proper-8-wednesday-year-1/

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Posted August 26, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Genesis 21, Matthew 8, Psalm 34

Tagged with , , , , ,

Reading and Pondering Amos, Part Six   1 comment

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

A Light to the Nations Throughout Time

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Amos 9:11-15 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

In that day,

I will set up again the fallen booth of David:

I will mend its breaches and set up its ruins anew.

I will build it firm as in the days of old,

So that they shall possess the rest of Edom

And the nations once attached to My name

–declares the LORD who will bring this to pass.

A time is coming

–declares the LORD–

When the plowman shall meet the reaper,

And the trader of grapes

Him who holds the [bag of] seed;

When the mountains shall drip wine

And all the hills shall wave [with grain].

I will restore My people Israel.

They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them;

They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine;

They shall till gardens and eat their fruits.

And I will plant them upon their soil,

Nevermore to be uprooted

From the soil I have given them

–said the LORD your God.

Psalm 85:7-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

7 Show us your mercy, O LORD,

and grant us your salvation.

8 I will listen to what the LORD God is saying,

for he is speaking peace to his faithful people

and to those who turn their hearts to him.

9 Truly, his salvation is very near those who fear him,

that his glory may dwell in our land.

10 Mercy and truth have met together;

righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

11 Truth shall spring up from the earth,

and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

12 The LORD will indeed grant prosperity,

and our land will yield its increase.

13 Righteousness shall go before him,

and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

Matthew 9:14-17 (An American Translation):

Then the disciples of John came up to him [Jesus] and said,

Why is it that we and the Pharisees are keeping the fast, while your disciples are not keeping it?

Jesus said to them,

Can wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  But a time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and they will fast then.  But no one sews a patch of unshrunken cloth on an old coat, for the patch will tear away from the coat, and make the hole worse than ever.  And people do not put new wine into old wine-skins, or if they do, the skins burst, and the wine runs out and the skins are spoiled.  But people put new wine into fresh wine skins, and so both are saved.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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The Kingdom of Israel, Amos proclaims, will go to its doom, and Judah will go into exile yet return from it.  For Judah, hope and restoration will follow judgment and exile.  The line of David will continue.

Sometimes restoration comes in ways we do not expect.  Judah was never again as great politically as it had been.  History tells us that the territory we now call the State of Israel was part of a series of foreign empires for nearly two thousand years, except for about a century, when the Hasmoneans governed.  Then the Romans came, and that was that.  The restoration of Amos spoke was religious.  And, from the House of David came one who drew foreigners to God.  Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate, historical form of the Second Person of the Trinity, was that light to the nations.  As the risen Christ he remains that light.

This post constitutes the end of our journey through the Book of Amos.  It is a book worth revisiting many times, for its message is timeless.  Unfortunately, many of my fellow human beings insist on repeating the sins of economic exploitation which Amos condemned.  But the testimony of the prophet indicts them also as it echoes through the corridors of time.  May God, through the merits of Jesus, forgive and deliver us all.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 25, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF BAYARD RUSTIN, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/week-of-proper-8-saturday-year-2/

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Reading and Pondering Amos, Part Five   1 comment

Above:  A U-Turn

Image Source = Smurrayinchester

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:U-turn.svg)

Too Late to Repent?

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Amos 8:1-14 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

This is what my Lord GOD showed me:  There was a basket of figs.  He said,

What do you see, Amos?

I replied,

A basket of figs.

And the LORD said to me:

The hour of doom has come for my people Israel; I will not pardon them again.  And the singing women of the palace shall howl on that day

–declares my Lord GOD:

So many corpses

Left lying everywhere!

Hush!

Listen to his, you who devour the needy, annihilating the poor of the land, saying,

If only the new moon were over, so that we could sell grain; the sabbath, so that we could offer wheat for sale, using an ephah that is too small, and a shekel that is too big, tilting a dishonest scale, and selling grain refuse as grain!  We will buy the poor for silver, the needy for a pair of sandals.

The LORD swears by the Pride of Jacob:

I shall never forget any of their doings.

Shall not the earth shake for this

And all that dwell on it mourn?

Shall it not all rise like the Nile

And surge like the Nile of Egypt?

And in that day

–declares my Lord God–

I will make the sun set at noon,

I will darken the earth on a sunny day.

I will turn your festivals into mourning

And all your festivals into mourning

And all your songs into dirges;

I will put sackcloth on all loins

And tonsures on every head.

I will make it mourn as for an only child,

All of it as on a bitter day.

A time is coming

–declares my Lord GOD–

when I will send a famine upon the land:  not a hunger for bread or a thirst for water, but for the hearing of the words of the LORD.  Men shall wander from sea t sea and from north to east to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.

In that day, the beautiful maidens and the young men shall faint with thirst–

Those who swear by the guilt of Samaria,

Saying, “As your God lives, Dan,”

And “As the way to Beer-sheba lives”–

They shall fall to rise no more.

Psalm 119:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Happy are they whose way is blameless,

who walk in the law of the LORD!

Happy are they who observe his decrees

and seek him with all their hearts!

3 Who never do any wrong,

but always walk in his ways.

4 You laid down your commandments,

that we should fully keep them.

Oh, that my ways were made so direct

that I might keep your statutes!

Then I should not be put to shame,

when I regard all your commandments.

I will thank you with an unfeigned heart,

when I have learned your righteous judgments.

I will keep your statutes;

do not utterly forsake me.

Matthew 9:9-13 (An American Translation):

Afterward, as Jesus was passing along from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tollhouse, and he said to him,

Follow me!

And he got up and followed him.

While Jesus was at home at table, a number of tax-collectors and irreligious people came in joined Jesus and his disciples at table.  And the Pharisees observed it, and they said to his disciples,

Why does your master eat with tax-collectors and irreligious people?

But he heard it, and said,

It is not the well but the sick who have to have the doctor!  Go and learn what the saying means, “It is mercy, not sacrifice, that I care for.”  I did not come to invite the pious but the irreligious.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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I enjoy wordplay.  I eve have my own blog devoted to puns.  So imagine, if you, O reader, will, my interest in noting the Hebrew-language pun early in Amos 8.  ”Kayitz,” the Hebrew word for “summer fruit” or “figs”,” sounds like “ketz,” the Hebrew word for “the end.”  Amos sees a basket of figs or summer fruit, a sign that the end is near.  This pun is serious.

And why was the end near?  As Amos keeps repeating–just in case we have missed it for the previous seven chapters–cheating, exploitation, systemic corruption–angered God.  And this had been going on for some time.  Those who benefited to the detriment of others showed no signs of changing their ways.  So God declared that the time for forgiveness had ended and that judgment day was near.

Now for the Gospel reading.

The Jewish men who collected taxes for the occupying Roman Empire cheated others.  These men lived–often quite comfortably–off the difference between what Rome required them to collect and what they collected.  Matthew/Levi was a tax collector before becoming an Apostle.  He repented and followed Jesus, with whom he shared a scandalous meal.  And Matthew/Levi invited some others who sought to reform their lives.

To repent, of course, is to turn around and change one’s mind.  That was what would have made glad the heart of God in much of the Old Testament, including the Book of Amos.  What we do affects others for good or for ill.  There, of course, is nothing morally objectionable about earning a just profit, but the economic exploitation of people is a sin.  To base one’s economic good fortunes on gouging people financially is wrong at all times and at all places.  And it makes God angry.

Maybe those who practice this sin still have time to repent.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 25, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF BAYARD RUSTIN, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/week-of-proper-8-friday-year-2/

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