Archive for September 2011

Transformed by God   1 comment

Above: Girl with the Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer (Circa 1665)

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Exodus 34:29-35 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And it was when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’s hand when he was coming down from the mountain.  And Moses had not known that the skin of his face was transformed when He was speaking with him.  And Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses; and, here, the skin of his face was transformed, and they were afraid of going over to him.  And Moses called to them.  And Aaron and all the chiefs in the congregation came back to him, and he spoke to them.  And after that all the children of Israel went over.  And he commanded them everything that YHWH had spoken with him in Mount Sinai.  And Moses finished speaking with them, and he put a veil on his face.  And when Moses would come in front of YHWH to speak with Him, he would turn away the veil until he would go out; and he would go out and speak to the children of Israel what had been commanded.  And the children of Israel would see Moses’ face, that the skin of Moses’ face was transformed, and Moses would put back the veil on his face until he would come to speak with Him.

Psalm 99 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

The LORD is King;

let the people tremble;

he is enthroned upon the cherubim;

let the earth shake.

The LORD is great in Zion;

he is high above all peoples.

3 Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome;

he is the Holy One.

4 “O mighty King, lover of justice,

you have established equity;

you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”

Proclaim the greatness of the LORD our God

and fall down before his footstool;

he is the Holy One.

Moses and Aaron among his priests,

and Samuel among those who call upon his Name,

they called upon the LORD, and he answered them.

He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud;

they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.

8 “O LORD our God, you answered them indeed;

you were a God who forgave them,

yet punished them for their evil deeds.”

9 Proclaim the greatness of the LORD our God

and worship him upon his holy hill;

for the LORD our God is the Holy One.

Matthew 13:44-46 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

[Jesus continued,]

Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like some treasure which has been buried in a field.  A man finds it and buries it again, and goes off overjoyed to sell all his possessions to buy himself that field.

Or again, the kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.  When he has found a single pearl of great value, he goes and sells all his possessions and buys it.

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The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; 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 suspect that the imagery in Exodus is pure poetry.  Some Biblical events are like that–words are inadequate for literal descriptions, so we have prose poetry instead.  The Revised Common Lectionary pairs this reading from Exodus with an account of the Transfiguration of Jesus for Sunday purposes.  And I recognize the same pairing in the readings for the Feast of the Transfiguration.  There is another example of a prose-poetic description.

Whatever the details were, contact with God had altered Moses so much that he was obviously different than he was before recent events on the mountain.  And so, as Richard Elliott Friedman states, the veil over the leader’s face became an indication of YHWH’s proximity, much like the visible, physical shrine.  Something mysterious was occurring, and people recognized this fact immediately.  Those who saw it responded with awe and wonder.  God was truly in their midst.

When one discovers that one is in the presence of God, how should one act?  Two brief parables of Jesus  speak to that issue.  One man finds a great treasure when not seeking it.  But he knows what he has found, stores it safely in the earth temporarily, sells all he owns, and uses the proceeds to purchase the field where he found the treasure.  Likewise, a merchant seeking a pearl, a much-admired object of beauty, finds it, sells all his possessions, and uses the money to purchase it.  So, whether we seek the knowledge that we are in the presence of God, or whether we stumble upon this realization, we ought to treasure this above all else.  Single-minded devotion is the proper response.

We are, of course, always in the presence of God.  If we look closely enough, we will recognize God in the faces of those we like and/or love, as well as those with whom we disagree and/or dislike.  God is present directly, as well as in those we know and those with whom we are not acquainted.  So, when people look at our faces with spiritual perception, will they see God reflected back at them?  And do we seek the same in others?

I choose to avoid much negativity, much of which is present in abundance on AM talk radio and in comments sections on many websites.  There one can find a plethora of vitriolic comments, many of which reflect more rage than anything else.  These are zones for people oblivious to objective reality.  So I will not find God there.  No, I prefer uplifting content, whether secular or overtly religious.  Consider the public domain image at the top of this post, for example.  It is an example of great art, but not of a religious nature.  Yet Vermeer paintings feed my soul, and in them I find the beauty which comes from God.

God is present in many places; may we find as many as possible.  Then may God transform us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 12, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY ALFORD, DEAN OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF SAINT AELRED, ABBOT OF RIEVAULX

THE FEAST OF SAINT BENEDICT BISCOP, ABBOT OF JARROW

THE FEAST OF JOHN HORDEN, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF MOOSONEE

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on January 12, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/week-of-proper-12-wednesday-year-1/

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Posted September 27, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Exodus 34, Matthew 13, Psalm 99

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Single Predestination   2 comments

Above: Paul Writing His Epistles, a Painting from the 1500s

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1 Kings 3:5-12 (New Revised Standard Version):

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said,

Ask what I should give you.

And Solomon said,

You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him,

Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.

Psalm 119:129-136 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

129 Your decrees are wonderful;

therefore I obey them with all my heart.

130 When your word goes forth it gives light;

it gives understanding to the simple.

131 I open my mouth and pant;

I long for your commandments.

132 Turn to me in mercy,

as you always do to those who love your Name.

133 Steady my footsteps in your word;

let no iniquity have dominion over me.

134 Rescue me from those who oppress me,

and I will keep your commandments.

135 Let your countenance shine upon your servant

and teach me your statutes.

136 My eyes shed streams of tears,

because people do not keep your law.

Romans 8:26-39 (New Revised Standard Version):

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;

we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus put before the crowds another parable:

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.

He told them another parable:

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Have you understood all this?

They answered,

Yes.

And he said to them,

Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.

The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; 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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We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

–Romans 8:28-30 (New Revised Standard Version)

I consider myself a serious student of the Bible–a student, not a teacher or scholar.  There is always something more for me to learn, and what I do know about the Bible outweighs my accumulated learning concerning it.  So I have no problem admitting freely that there are certain passages and verses I have not really read for years.  I have read the words, but I have moved along.

Romans 8:28-30 is one such passage.  Yes, I knew 8:28, but focused on that, not 8:29-30.  I began to focus on this passage in late 2008.  My methodology was quite Episcopalian; I examined the scriptures carefully, read what Christian theologians have made of these verses, and employed my reason in pondering all this information.  The preponderance of scripture, tradition, and reason has convinced me to be become and remain a Single Predestinarian:  God has predestined some people to Heaven, but nobody to Hell.  The witness of the Holy Spirit and the missions efforts of the Church are available to invite all others into the path leading to eternal life in this life and the next.

Being raised United Methodist, I imbibed deeply of free will and the rejection of any form of predestination.  The Methodist concept of salvation available to all according to all, with only the free will choice to reject it standing in the way, is a democratic theology consistent with the American ethos.  It is a powerful idea which has affected U.S. history and culture, helping to liberate women and slaves spiritually while negating social hierarchies.  Despite these positive contributions, it is a flawed idea.

Calvinism, in any form, is a textured and subtle theological system, one which does not lend itself to bumper sticker statements. This confusion is mildly amusing when it becomes the fodder for jokes, but does not aid in spiritual contemplation.

The good news is that the wisdom that Solomon sought is available to all by grace, either in the form of predestination or the witness of the Holy Spirit; that the extremely valuable Kingdom of God is within the grasp of all, either in the form of predestination or the witness of the Holy Spirit.  The mustard seed grows into a giant shrub that goes where it will.  Yeast, traditionally associated with corruption in Judaism, becomes a symbol of extravagant grace.  The pearls are extremely valuable; the pursuit of them indicates single-minded devotion.  The parable of the fish in the net is akin to that of the mustard seed, for both contain the good and the bad, the pure and the impure; God will sort out everything at the end.

The mustard plant provides shelter for many varieties of animal life.  Some of the neighbors do not get along, but there they are, together.  And Jesus says this is a metaphor for the Kingdom of God.  The net collects the good fish along with the rotten ones.  Who is a good fish?  Who is a rotten one?  Do you not get along with your neighbor species in the mustard bush?  Leaving decisions as to who is pure and who is impure, who is good and who is rotten, to God is the better part of wisdom.  We might even be confused about our proper classification.

Fortunately, grace is present, in one form or another, and there is hope for us yet.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 11, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MIEP GIES, RIGHTEOUS GENTILE

THE FEAST OF DAVID I, KING OF SCOTLAND

THE FEAST OF GEORGE FOX, QUAKE FOUNDER

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF AQUILEIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCH

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on January 11, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/proper-12-year-a/

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Christ, Our Passover   1 comment

Above:  The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, by James Tissot

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John 6:1-21 (Anchor Bible):

Later on Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee [to the shore] of Tiberias, but a large crowd kept following him because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.  So Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.  The Jewish feast of Passover was near.

When Jesus looked up, he caught sight of a large crowd coming toward him; so he said to Philip,

Where shall we ever buy bread for these people to eat?

(Actually, of course, he was perfectly aware of what he was going to do, but he asked this to test Philip’s reaction.)  He replied,

Not even with two hundred days’ wages could we buy enough loaves to give each of them a mouthful.

One of Jesus’ disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, remarked to him.

There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and a couple of dried fish, but what good is that for so many?

Jesus said,

Get the people to sit down.

Now the men numbered about five thousand, but there was plenty of grass there for them to find a seat.  Jesus then took the loaves of bread, gave thanks, and passed them around to those sitting there; and he did the same with the dried fish–just as much as they wanted.  When they had enough, he told his disciples,

Gather up the fragments that are left over so that nothing will perish.

And so they gathered twelve baskets full of fragments left over by those who had been fed with the five barley loaves.

Now when the people saw the sign[s] he had performed, they began to say,

This in undoubtedly the Prophet who is to come into the world.

With that Jesus realized that they would come and carry him off to make him king, so he fled back to the mountain alone.

As evening drew on, his [Jesus’] disciples came down to the sea.  Having embarked, they were trying to cross the sea to Capernaum.  By this time it was dark, and still Jesus had not joined them; moreover, with a strong wind blowing, the sea was becoming rough.  When they had rowed about three or four miles, they sighted Jesus walking upon the sea, approaching the boat.  They were frightened, but he told them,

It is I; do not be afraid.

So they wanted to take him into the boat, and suddenly the boat reached the shore toward which they had been going.

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Some Related Posts:

Break Thou the Bread of Life:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/break-thou-the-bread-of-life/

John 6:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/thirteenth-day-of-easter/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/fourteenth-day-of-easter/

Matthew 14 (Parallel to John 6):

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/proper-13-year-a/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/week-of-proper-13-monday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/31/proper-14-year-a/

Mark 6 (Parallel to John 6):

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/third-day-of-epiphany/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/week-of-4-epiphany-saturday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/proper-11-year-b/

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Only one miracle story occurs on all four canonical Gospels.  That is the feeding of the Five Thousand, with slight variations.  Were there, for example, five thousand men (as Mark and Luke record the miracle), five thousand people (as John indicates), or five thousand men plus an uncounted number of women and children (as Matthew says)?  All that is beside the point, for the accounts describe a staggering act of divine power and mercy.

Afterward, in John’s Gospel, the astonished crowd recognizes Jesus as a political messiah, so he and the Apostles leave the area.  This (in the Johannine Gospel) sets the stage for Jesus walking on water, much to the astonishment of his Apostles.  There is an accompanying storm for Jesus to calm in the Matthew and Mark accounts, but not here.  Rather, the Johannine account emphasizes that Jesus is the incarnate I AM, not a political messiah.

Before I proceed further, I must acknowledge that I am drawing heavily from Father Raymond E. Brown’s Anchor Bible commentary on the Gospel of John.  His depth of knowledge and extreme attention to details (He gets to John 6 on page 231 of Volume I.) are staggering.  I can feast on this material for a long time to come.

Back to the Gospel of John….

There are obvious Eucharistic overtones in the Johannine account of the mass feeding.  But how should we understand the walking on water?  Brown, citing other sources, suggests a Passover image.  Think about it:  In both the Book of Exodus and in John 6 we find a water passage and the presence of unexpected food in close proximity to each other.  And, in John, there is an explicit point of profound theology:  JESUS IS THE PASSOVER LAMB.  Thus we find Jesus dying on the cross as the sacrifice of animals occurs at the Temple.  (In the Synoptic Gospels, however, Jesus is crucified on the next day.)  The Last Supper, in the Synoptic Gospels, is a Passover meal.  Yet, in the Johannine Gospel, JESUS IS THE PASSOVER MEAL.  (See John 19:16b following.)

We encounter astounding theology in John 6.  Who do we want Jesus to be, and why might we follow him?  Do we week a national liberator or a Passover lamb?  And what does our expectation indicate about us?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 25, 2011 COMMON ERA

PROPER 21, THE FIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on September 25, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/09/25/proper-12-year-b/

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Posted September 25, 2011 by neatnik2009 in John 6

Tagged with

The God-Shaped Hole   1 comment

Above:  Sanford Stadium, The University of Georgia, Athens-Clarke County, Georgia

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Jeremiah 2:1-13 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The word of the LORD came to me, saying,

Go proclaim to Jerusalem:  Thus says the LORD:

I accounted to your favor,

The devotion of your youth,

Your love as a bride–

How you followed Me in the wilderness,

In a land not sown.

Israel was holy to the LORD,

The first fruits of His harvest.

All who ate of it were held guilty;

Disaster befell them

–declares the LORD.

Hear the word of the LORD, O House of Jacob,

Every clan of the House of Israel!

Thus said the LORD:

What wrong did your fathers find in Me

That they abandoned Me

And went after delusion and were deluded?

They never asked themselves, Where is the LORD,

Who brought us up from the land of Egypt,

Who led us through the wilderness,

A land of deserts and pits,

A land of drought and darkness,

A land no man had traversed,

Where no human being had dwelt?”

I brought you to this country of farm land

To enjoy its fruit and its bounty;

But you came and defiled My land,

You made My possession abhorrent.

The priests never asked themselves, “Where is the LORD?”

The guardians of the Teaching ignored Me;

The rulers rebelled against Me,

And the prophets prophesied by Baal

And followed what can do no good.

Oh, I will go on accusing you

–declares the LORD–

And I will accuse your children’s children!

Just cross over to the isles of the Kittim and look,

Send to Kedar and observe carefully;

See if aught like this has ever happened:

Has any nation changed its gods

Even though they are no-gods?

But My people has exchanged its glory

For what can do no good.

Be appalled, O heavens, at this;

Be horrified, utterly dazed!

–says the LORD–

For My people have done a twofold wrong:

They have forsaken Me, the Fount of living waters,

And hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns,

Which cannot even hold water.

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There is inside of each of us a God-shaped hole.  If we are wise, we insert God there.  Yet many of us are foolish, for we resort to our collection of idolatrous pegs.  These idols include inherently destructive habits (such as drug abuse, overeating, and risky sexual acts), activities healthy except in excess (Dare I say certain varieties of religion?), and neutral activities (such as watching movies and television programs).  There is a time to watch television and there is a time to pray contemplatively.  There is a time to read a book and there is a time to take a brisk walk and enjoy nature.

I live in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, home of The University of Georgia (UGA).  It is not an exaggeration to describe football (especially UGA football) as a religion here.  In late 2009, on the front page of the local newspaper, there was a story about the murder of a woman by her boyfriend or former boyfriend.  This story filled one column on the periphery of the page.  Yet the dominant story above the fold, complete with huge font, concerned the death of the UGA football team mascot, a bulldog.  ”SHOCKING LOSS,” the headline screamed.  Which should have been the shocking loss?

We are here on this planet to, among other things, love God fully and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  How we live constitutes an act of daily worship.  So, when we chase idols, whether they are football or Baal Peor or cocaine, we forsake God.  We hew out broken cisterns which cannot even hold water.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 23, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHURCHILL JULIUS, ANGLICAN ARCHBISHOP OF NEW ZEALAND

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/week-of-proper-11-thursday-year-2/

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Posted September 23, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Jeremiah 2-3

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Beyond Estrangement   1 comment

Above:  Mosaic of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, from Ravenna, Italy

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Ephesians 2:11-22 (New Revised Standard Version):

Remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” — a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands– remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Psalm 23 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  The LORD is my shepherd;

I shall not be in want.

2  He makes me lie down in green pastures

and leads me beside still waters.

3  He revives my soul

and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

4  Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I shall fear no evil;

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5  You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;

you have anointed my head with oil,

and my cup is running over.

6  Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 (New Revised Standard Version):

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them,

Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.

For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

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The Pauline reading from Ephesians (from perhaps 58-59 C.E.) speaks of reconciliation in Christ between Jews and Gentiles.  Members of the two groups “are no longer strangers and aliens, but…citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”  It is a beautiful vision.

History, however, tells a different story.  The estrangement between Christians and Jews was unmistakable by 85 C.E., at the composition of the Gospel of Matthew, written to Jewish Christians, marginalized members of the Jewish community.  And, about a decade later, came the Gospel of John, which utilizes invective against Jews.  From there the history of Christian Anti-Semitism spans millennia and includes shameful instances of violence and discrimination.

It did not have to be this way.  Beyond Jewish-Christian relations, there is a long and shameful history of professing Christians justifying and perpetrating racism, xenophobia, nativism, and other forms of hatred toward their fellow human beings.  It did not have to be this way.  It does not have to be this way.  It does not have to continue to be this way.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd of all sheep who will come to him and all whom he draws successfully to himself.  We sheep are Gentiles, Jews, members of various racial and ethnic groups, parts of various cultures and subcultures, heterosexuals and homosexuals.  In Christ there is no hostility among us.  So, if such hostility does exist among us, we are not mutually in Christ, are we?

There is much work to do.  We have communities to build and walls to destroy.  All of this work is in Christ, our Good Shepherd.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 20, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRI NOUWEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF ANDREW KIM TAEGON, PAUL CHONG HASANT, AND THEIR COMPANIONS MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF C. (CHALRES) H. (HAROLD) DODD, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JOHN COLERIDGE PATTESON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF MELANESIA, AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF JOHN WESLEY TROUT, FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN U.S. LUTHERAN BISHOP

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on September 20, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/proper-11-year-b/

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Posted September 20, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Ephesians 2, Mark 6, Psalm 23

Tagged with , , , ,

God is More Powerful than Evil   1 comment

Above:  An Orthodox Icon of the Prophet Micah

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Micah 2:1-5 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Ah, those who plan iniquity

And design evil on their beds;

When morning dawns, they do it,

For they have the power.

They covet fields, and seize them;

Houses, and take them away.

They defraud men of their homes,

And people of their land.

Assuredly, thus says the LORD:

I am planning such a misfortune against this clan that you will not be able to free your necks from it.  You will not be able to walk erect; it will be such a time of disaster.

In that day,

One shall recite a poem about you,

And utter a bitter lament,

And shall say:

My people’s portion changes hands;

How it slips away from me!

Our field is allotted to a rebel.

We are utterly ravaged.

Truly, none of you

Shall cast a lot cord

In the assembly of the LORD

Psalm 10:1-9, 18-19 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Why do you stand so far off, O LORD,

and hide yourself in time of trouble?

2  The wicked arrogantly persecute the poor,

but they are trapped in the schemes they have devised.

3  The wicked boast of their heart’s desire;

the covetous curse and revile the LORD.

4  The wicked are so proud that they care not for God;

their only thought is, “God does not matter.”

5  Their ways are devious at all times;

your judgments are far above out of their sight;

they defy all their enemies.

6  They say in their heart, “I shall not be shaken’

no harm shall happen to me ever.”

7  Their mouth is full of cursing, deceit, and oppression;

under their tongue are mischief and wrong.

8  They lurk in ambush in public squares

and in secret places they murder the innocent;

they spy out the helpless.

9  They lie in wait, like a lion in a covert;

they lie in wait to seize upon the lowly;

they seize the lowly and drag them away in their net.

18  The LORD will hear the defense of the humble;

you will strengthen their heart and your ears shall hear;

19  To give justice to the orphan and the oppressed,

so that mere mortals may strike terror no more.

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There are Christian understandings (plural) of the mechanics and meaning of the Atonement.  This fact might shock some people, but so be it; “facts are,” as John Adams said, “stubborn things.”  One of these understandings is the Conquest of Satan.  This case, dating to at least Saint Justin Martyr (Second Century), quotes Colossians 1:13 and 2:15, 1 Corinthians 15:25-25, and Romans 8:38-39.  (Thanks to Linwood Urban, A Short History of Christian Thought, Revised and Expanded Edition, 1995, page 108, for much useful information.)

The reading from Micah reminded me of this, minus Jesus, of course.  (The historical figure of Jesus had not been born yet.)  No matter how powerful the powers of evil are or seem to be, God has more might.  ”Evil” is an appropriate adjective for those who “plan iniquity,” covet and seize fields and homes, and defraud people with malice aforethought.   There will be justice, Micah tells us.  The rich, who already have plenty, will pay the price for defrauding the poor.

The battle is not yet finished, of course.  Genocides continue, cruelty has not ended, and white-collar crime involving mind-boggling sums of money persists.  So the suffering of innocents continues.  Yet there will be justice, and the battle is the Lord’s.

So, to quote the Conquest of Satan interpretation of the Atonement, God has made a public example of evil powers, and nothing–not even evil–can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  The conquest of evil is not yet complete, but it has at least begun.

My theology of the Atonement is broader than this understanding, but I do borrow from the Conquest of Satan interpretation.  There is much merit in this aspect of Saint Justin Martyr’s theology.  God is sovereign, despite certain appearances to the contrary.  May we never forget this, and so may we trust in God and live faithfully and confidently in Christ.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 20, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRI NOUWEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF ANDREW KIM TAEGON, PAUL CHONG HASANT, AND THEIR COMPANIONS MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF C. (CHALRES) H. (HAROLD) DODD, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JOHN COLERIDGE PATTESON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF MELANESIA, AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF JOHN WESLEY TROUT, FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN U.S. LUTHERAN BISHOP

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on September 20, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/week-of-proper-10-saturday-year-2/

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The Mercy of Flexibility   1 comment

Above:  King Hezekiah with the Prophet Isaiah

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Isaiah 38:1-6, 21 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

In those days Hezekiah fell dangerously ill.  The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him,

Thus said the LORD:  Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die; you will not get well.

Thereupon Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD.

Please, O LORD, he said, remember how I have walked before You sincerely and wholeheartedly, and have done what is pleasing to You.

And Hezekiah wept profusely.

Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah:

Go and tell Hezekiah:  Thus said the LORD, the God of your father David:  I have heard your prayer, and I have seen your tears.  I hereby add fifteen years to your life.  I will also rescue  you and this city from the hands of the king of Assyria.  I will protect this city.

…Isaiah said,

Let them take a cake of figs and apply it to the rash, and he will recover….

Psalm 6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger,

do not punish me in your wrath.

2  Have pity on me, LORD, for I am weak;

heal me, LORD, for my bones are racked.

3  My spirit shakes with terror;

how long, O LORD, how long?

4  Turn, O LORD, and deliver me;

save me for your mercy’s sake?

5  For in death no one remembers you;

and who will give you thanks in the grave?

6  I grow weary because of my groaning;

every night I drench my bed

and flood my couch with tears.

7  My eyes are wasted with grief

and worn away because of all my enemies.

8  Depart from me, all evildoers,

for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.

9  The LORD has heard my supplication;

the LORD accepts my prayer.

10  All my enemies shall be confounded and quake with fear;

they shall turn back and suddenly be put to shame.

Matthew 12:1-8 (An American Translation):

At that same time Jesus walked through the wheat fields, and his disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of wheat and eat them.  But the Pharisees saw it and said to him,

Look!  Your disciples are doing something which it is against the Law to do on the Sabbath!

But he said to them,

Did you ever read what David did, when he and his companions were hungry?  How is it that he went into the House of God and that they ate the Presentation Loaves which it is against the Law for him and his companions to eat, or for anyone except the priests?  Or did you ever read in the Law how the priests in the Temple are not guilty when they break the Sabbath?  But I tell you, there is something greater than  the Temple here!  But if you knew what the saying means, ‘It is mercy, not sacrifice, that I care for,’ you would not have condemned  men who are not guilty.  For the Son of Man is master of the Sabbath.

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The Collect:

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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A Related Post:

Week of Proper 10:  Friday, Year 1 (For More Regarding the Matthew 12 Reading):

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/week-of-proper-10-friday-year-1/

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King Hezekiah of Judah received much positive press in the Bible.  He “did what was pleasing to the LORD,” “abolished the shrines and smashed the pillars and cut down the sacred post.”  (2 Kings 18:3-4, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures)  And, in the words of 2 Kings 18:5-6 (also from TANAKH), Hezekiah

trusted only in the LORD the God of Israel; there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those before him.  He clung to the LORD; he did not turn away from hallowing Him, but kept the commandments that the LORD had given to Moses.

So “the LORD was always with him.”  (2 Kings 18:7a, TANAKH)

This day’s reading from Isaiah 38 occurs in the context of 2 Kings 20, to which it bears many similarities.  In Isaiah 38 we read of God giving the king advance notice of his impending death, Hezekiah weeping “profusely,” and God extending the king’s life by fifteen years.  Back in 2 Kings 20, God then tells Hezekiah of the impending Babylonian Exile, to which Hezekiah says to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.”  At least safety was assured for his time, he thought.  (2 Kings 20:19)

What are we supposed to make of this story?  I have checked some sources, and what follows is some of what I found.  The note in The Jewish Study Bible reads,

Contrition accompanied by prayer can effect a change in God’s decision.

The Orthodox Study Bible quotes Saint John Cassian (circa 360-circa 435):

What can be clearer than this proof that out of consideration for mercy and goodness the Lord would rather break His word, and instead of the prearranged limit of death, extend the life of him who prayed for fifteen years, rather than be found inexorable because of His unchangeable decree?

The NIV Study Bible note affirms both the sovereignty of God and the appropriateness of prayer.  The New Interpreter’s Bible stresses the connection between the well-being of Hezekiah and that of his realm, for God delivered both of them from the Assyrian king, a blasphemer.

Thus Hezekiah’s personal recovery is the working out of God’s will in microcosm.  (Volume III, page 271)

Now I bring the reading from Matthew 12 into consideration.  Jesus says in Matthew 12:1-8 that God desires mercy, not sacrifice.  In so doing he quotes Hosea 6:6.  Keeping the Sabbath, or Lord says, ought not to entail involuntary hunger.  Spiritual “purity” is not holiness when it imposes needless physical hardships on others.

Putting these two readings together and pondering their meanings leads to a beautiful lesson.  Mercy is a greater virtue than rigid consistency.  God modeled this lesson with regard to Hezekiah, and Jesus demonstrated it relative to Sabbath laws and the need to eat properly each day.  People and their needs matter far more than abstract rules.

Here is a lesson which is applicable in many circumstances in daily life.  I strive to live according to it in my work as a teacher.  (I hope that I succeed more often than I fail.)  Being a decent human being (in my case, as a Christian, for Jesus and the glory of God) is preferable to acting like an inflexible person who quotes syllabus provisions in a lawyer-like fashion while students suffer unnecessarily.  Grace is a wondrous gift; may we extend it to others without pretending that no rules mean anything and that there are no consequences for misdeeds.  This is the balance I must strike:  respecting the efforts of pupils who obey the rules while not treating every error as if it is a proper cause of catastrophe.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 20, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRI NOUWEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF ANDREW KIM TAEGON, PAUL CHONG HASANT, AND THEIR COMPANIONS MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF C. (CHALRES) H. (HAROLD) DODD, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JOHN COLERIDGE PATTESON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF MELANESIA, AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF JOHN WESLEY TROUT, FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN U.S. LUTHERAN BISHOP

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on September 20, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/week-of-proper-10-friday-year-2/

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