God Is With the Faithful   1 comment

Above:  Christ in Majesty, from a Gospel Book, Circa 1220

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Genesis 46:1-7, 28-30 (An American Translation):

So Israel set out with all that belonged to him.  On reaching Beersheba he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.  In a vision by night God spoke to Israel.

Jacob! Jacob!

he said.

Here I am,

he said.

I am El, the God of your father,

he said;

do not be afraid to go down to Egypt; for there I will make you a great nation.  I will myself go down to Egypt with you–yes, and I will bring you up again, when Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.

Then Jacob set out from Beersheba; and the sons of Israel conveyed their father Jacob, with their little ones and their wives, in wagons which Pharaoh had sent to convey him.  Taking their live stock and the property which they had acquired in the land of Canaan, Jacob and all his family migrated to Egypt; his sons and his grandsons accompanied him, as well as his grand-daughters; he brought all his family with him into Egpyt.

Israel sent Juday ahead of him to Joseph in Goshen, to appear before him.  On their arrival in the land of Goshen Joseph hitched the horses to his chariot, and went up to meet his father Israel in Goshen.  When he presented himself to him, he fell on his neck, weeping again and again on his neck.

Now at last I may die,

Israel said to Joseph,

after having seen from your very self that you are still alive.

Psalm 37:3-4, 19-20, 28-29, 41-42 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Put your trust in the LORD and do good;

dwell in the land and feed on its riches.

Take delight in the LORD,

and he shall give you your heart’s desire.

19 The LORD cares for the lives of the godly,

and their inheritance shall last for ever.

20 They shall not be ashamed in bad times,

and in days of famine they shall have enough.

28 Turn from evil, and do good,

and dwell in the land for ever.

29 For the LORD loves justice;

he does not forsake his faithful ones.

41 But the deliverance of the righteous comes from the LORD;

he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

42 The LORD will help them and rescue them;

he will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them,

because they seek refuge in him.

Matthew 10:16-23 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued to address his disciples,]

Here I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  So you must be wise as serpents, and guileless like doves.  But be on your guard against men, for they will give you up to their courts, and have you flogged in their synagogues, and you will be brought before governors and kings on my account, to bear your testimony before them and the heathen.  But when they give you up, you must have no anxiety about how to speak or what to say, for you will be told at the very moment what you ought to say, for it is not you who will speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father that will speak through you.  One brother will give up another to death, and a father his child, and children will turn against their parents, and have them put to death.  You will be hated by everybody on my account, but the man who holds out to the very end will saved.  But when they persecute you in one town, make your escape to another, for I tell you, you will have not gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man arrives.

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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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God is with the faithful, a fact that does not mean bad things will not happen to them because of this faithfulness.  So fidelity to God is not the road to Easy Street.  Jesus died as a criminal.  Almost all of his Apostles died painfully, as martyrs.  St. Paul died of decapitation.  St. Stephen died of stoning.  And, throughout the generations since the time of Jesus, countless saints have entered heaven through the gates of martyrdom and persecution.  Those gates remain open today.

The Gospel of Matthew comes from a time and place of religious persecution.  So the words placed in the mouth of Jesus were as contemporary in 85-90 as they were before the crucifixion.  Most of these sayings are straight-forward and easy to understand, but one does require some explanation.  In Matthew 10:23, the author makes Jesus say, “…for I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man arrives.”

Compare this to Matthew 16:28, in which the author makes Jesus say that some standing in his presence will not die before the coming of the Son of Man in his Kingdom.  And consider Mark 9:1, which quotes Jesus as saying that some in his presence will not die before seeing the coming of the Kingdom of God with power.  Luke 9:27 is quite similar to Mark 9:1.  I write these devotions in a series, so I refer now to an entry from a few days ago:  The Gospel of Matthew establishes that the Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven predates the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. By the time of the writing of the Gospels the Christian message had begun to take root.  So this was the Kingdom of God coming with power.  It is also true that many Christians of the first generation expected Jesus to return within their lifetimes; even the Apostle Paul did.  So the persecuted Church during the 85-90 timeframe grasped at this hope, and this is the best explanation as to why Matthew (or whoever wrote this gospel) quotes Jesus as he does.

Now, for the Hebrew Scriptures….

Joseph did not get into trouble because of his faithfulness, but the Joseph Epic tells of how God used the evil plans of most of his brothers to help Joseph, those brothers, the people of Egypt, and many people in neighboring lands.  The faithful person on whom I focus now is Jacob/Israel, who suffered for years under the lie that his son Joseph was dead.  So imagine his joy when he learned that Joseph was alive and when he met his long-lost son again.  This is an emotional and beautiful scene.

The Bible’s treatment of Gentiles varies from text to text.  Sometimes they are the undesirable people, and frequently persecutors of the Jews.  But many Gentiles receive favorable treatment in both Testaments.  Consider Cyrus the Great of Persia and Cornelius the Centurion, for example.  And think about the unnamed Pharaoh who welcomed Joseph’s family into Egypt, even sending the ancient equivalents of moving vans.

Sometimes Gentiles are allies of the Hebrews/Jews, and sometimes they are pagans and heathens.  By the way, the English words “pagan” and “heathen” have fascinating etymologies.  “Pagan” comes from the Latin word for villager.  And “heathen” is related to “heath,” or field.  So pagans lived in villages and heathens in the boondocks.  Nascent Christianity spread most rapidly in urban centers, and occupants of rural areas tended to cling to old religous ideas.  (Here ends the word history lesson.)

The ultimate good news to take away from these readings is that, through it all and despite how our ordeals end, God is ever-present.  We cannot escape from the presence of God.  So, are we on God’s side?  If we are, God will be on ours.  We will not suffer alone.

I write this devotion on Christmas Eve 2010, so the Navitity of Our Lord is very much on my mind.  This is a joyous occasion, but one not unmarred by foreshadowing of terrible events.  Christmas leads to Good Friday, which yields to Easter.  God was with Jesus, of course.  The Trinity defies human logic (perhaps one purpose of it), but Jesus was God.  (Just appreciate and enjoy the mystery.)  If fidelity to God were the road to Easy Street, the life of Jesus would have been quite different, not including an execution.  But God was with him, just as God was with Jacob/Israel and Joseph, his son.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 24, 2010 COMMON ERA

CHRISTMAS EVE

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/24/week-of-proper-9-friday-year-1/

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Posted February 6, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Genesis IV: 37-50, Matthew 10, Psalm 37

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  1. Pingback: Week of Proper 9: Friday, Year 1 « ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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