Archive for May 2012

Bible Translations and Reading Levels   Leave a comment

Above:  An Old Family Bible

Image Source = David Ball



I admit it:  I have a well-developed English vocabulary and a deep love for the language.  Skillful turns of English delight me.  So it follows that I like translations of the Bible which do not assume that I operate on the reading level of an Elementary School student.  I should (and do) have a more advanced vocabulary, for I am a native English speaker, an adult, and a college graduate.

I have looked up estimates of reading levels for various Bible translations online.  The results follow:

  1. Authorized (King James) Version–12th Grade
  2. Revised Standard Version–12th Grade
  3. New American Standard Bible–11th Grade
  4. New Revised Standard Version–10th Grade
  5. Jerusalem Bible–10th Grade
  6. New Jerusalem Bible–10th Grade
  7. Revised English Bible–10th Grade
  8. New American  Bible–9th Grade
  9. Good News Version/Today’s English Version–8th Grade
  10. Today’s New International Version–8th Grade
  11. Holman Christian Standard Bible–7th to 9th Grades
  12. New King James Version–7th to 9th Grades
  13. New International Version–7th to 8th Grades
  14. English Standard Version–7th to 8th Grades or 10th Grade
  15. Common English Bible–7th Grade
  16. New Living Translation–6th Grade
  17. GOD’S WORD–5th Grade
  18. Living Bible–4th Grade
  19. The Message–3rd to 5th Grades
  20. New Century Version–3rd Grade
  21. New International Reader’s Version–3rd Grade

Counting from 1989 and excluding revised versions (as in the cases of the New American Bible, the New American Standard Bible, and the New International Version) of translations published prior to 1989, I notice a pattern:  Those eleven translations from the above list divide almost evenly at the line separating Sixth Grade from Seventh Grade.  Six fall above it while five fall below it.  This pattern troubles me (although it could be worse), for it reflects an unfortunate decline in the quality of language education in the United States.  I have recognized this decline in the writing of college freshmen and sophomores.

The Bible is an anthology of texts which contain many subtleties.  A text’s meaning depends on various factors, including textual context (what precedes and succeeds it), historical context, and cultural context (which might not be explicit in the text itself).  And, when one examines a given passage, one might uncover possible shades of meaning.  A passage could mean A or B or C.  The proper communication of these subtleties cannot occur within the confines of a Third-Grade  vocabulary.

As for me, I prefer to read translations on the Tenth-Grade reading level and higher.  I have the vocabulary, so I use it.  Frequently I pull the New Revised Standard Version (which I hear almost all the time in my Episcopal parish) and the Revised English Bible off a shelf, but my main two choices–the ones I keep on my desk–are The New Jerusalem Bible (Roman Catholic) and TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (Jewish), both complete in 1985.  (My copy of TANAKH is The Jewish Study Bible from 2003, so it contains the text of the 1999 second edition of that translation.)  I estimate TANAKH to occupy at least a Tenth-Grade reading level, for I have noticed some impressive vocabulary choices.  Both translations are modern English, lacking Elizabethan, archaic language.  And both break with the familiar King James phrases, so I read a new, graceful take on texts.  At the other end of the spectrum is The Message.  It is a stylistic disgrace, ruining the majestic prologue to the Gospel of John by having Jesus move into the neighborhood.  Instead of the word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, it moves into the neighborhood.  That is too casual a rendering.  One can have both modern English and majesty of translation.

My prescription for dealing with an inadequate vocabulary is to consult a dictionary and a thesaurus as often as necessary in private.  If necessary, one should pursue other vocabulary-building strategies.  One should correct one’s vocabulary shortcomings, not read children’s Bibles as an adult for a long time.




A Preacher’s Kid’s Defense of Clerical Continence   4 comments

Above:  A Pulpit

I begin with definitions, for the meanings of words matter to me very much.  The question of factual accuracy is vital, especially when building a subjective case.  One might disagree with my opinion, but may my facts be iron-clad.  As the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, everybody is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts.  So, courtesy of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, here are some definitions.

  1. Clerical.  adj.  2.  Of, relating to, or characteristic of the clergy or a clergyman.

  2. Celibacy.  n.  The condition of being unmarried, especially by reason of religious vows.

  3. Continent.  adj.  2.  Partially or completely abstaining from sexual activity.

A person can be celibate while not being sexually continent.  And two people can be married while being sexually continent, as in the case of “white marriages.”   So sexual continence (often paired with celibacy) pertains more to the case I will make than does celibacy.

I support widespread and affirmed sexual continence among members of the clergy of various denominations.   This might be an ironic case for me to make, one might argue.  I am, after all, a Preacher’s Kid, albeit one who predates his father’s clergy status.  My experiences explain why I affirm clerical continence, for I know what it is like to live under unrealistic expectations of lay people.  And I do not argue for mandatory continence, for allegedly one-size-fits-all solutions do not work for all affected people.  Yet I do state that nobody should look askance at a member of the clergy who has chosen to live as a single and continent person.

Some people do look askance at them.  Many Evangelical and Fundamentalist congregations expect their pastors to be married.  So many single Evangelical ministers have difficulty getting hired.  Homophobia plays a role in some of these attitudes, for the suspicion among some is a single man of a certain age must be a homosexual.  But another factor is acclimation to a certain religious subculture, complete with a certain common pattern of human relationships.

Marriage is a sacrament, one to which many members of the clergy have a vocation.  But many also have the opposite vocation.  Both come from God.  I will not chase a rabbit too long here and now, but the biblical teachings regarding sexual activities are not a clear-cut as many people think.  Read Genesis 38, for example.  And, for orders to stone people who have committed various sexual infractions, read Deuteronomy 22:13-30.

I grew up in a series of United Methodist parsonages in rural southern Georgia.  Each house was more like a fishbowl than a home.  The expectations of many church members was that I ought to be super holy.  (It is difficult to grow up with those unrealistic expectations.)  And people volunteered me for more Christmas plays and other church activities than I counted.  Would it have been too much to ask that people ask me, not assume?

Even worse, the frequent moving (about every two or three years) was devastating.  The causes were issues pertaining entirely neither to my father or to certain lay people, but I did know of some individuals who had been primarily responsible for moving successive ministers.  Having to start at a new school and to meet new people was painful for me, an introvert.  So I withdrew into my own head after a little while; life was easier that way.  I have spent the last few years  unlearning those emotional self-defense tactics I adopted as a child and adolescent.  They had their time and places; what else was I supposed to do?

Yet circumstances have changed.  As I type these words I have lived in the same town for almost seven years.  I have lived in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, longer than I have lived anywhere else.  And I want to remain as long as that is prudent, which will hopefully be for a long time to come.

These have been my reflections; I have spoken only for myself.  My mother had a different yet overlapping set of issues, to which I do not presume to speak.  When I reached adulthood I flirted briefly with clergy status.  For a time I pondered the Episcopal priesthood.  Indeed, I would be more likely to succeed as an Episcopal priest than as a United Methodist minister, especially in Georgia–and especially in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, as opposed to the more conservative and less cosmopolitan Diocese of Georgia.  But I chose not to pursue the clergy path, even as an Episcopal deacon.  The liberation of being among the laity has long appealed to me.

My most basic argument for widespread and affirmed clerical continence is that is generally better that parsonage families not exist than that they do.  The price members of parsonage families pay is too high.  That has been my experience.

The statistical likelihood is that you, O reader, are a lay person if you are a Christian.  (Indeed, this blog is unapologetically Christian.)  I hope that, if your priest or pastor is married, you will consider these perspectives from a Preacher’s Kid and act toward your parsonage or rectory family as an angel, not one who lays unrealistic expectations on them.  They face challenges with which you might not be able to identify.  Yet you can support your parsonage or rectory family with words, deeds, and prayers.  And you can prevent some needless relocations.  Please do that in any situation.  An unnecessary move is rough on a family and a single person alike.

I conclude with a reading recommendation.  For a glimpse into being a collar-wearing member of the clergy read Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church.  It describes another set of challenges to which I do not presume to speak.  Yet, based on my experiences, I relate to the memoir.






Kings (2009)   4 comments

Above:  The Royal Family of Gilboa with Captain David Shepherd

Image Source = NBC

KINGS (2009)


The Royal Family and Close Relations:

Ian McShane as King Silas Benjamin

Susanna Thompson as Queen Rose Cross Benjamin

Allison Miller as Princess Michelle Benjamin

Sebastian Stan as Prince Jonathan “Jack” Benjamin

Dylan Baker as William Cross

Macaulay Culkin as Andrew Cross

Sarita Choudhury as Helen Pardis

Other Principal Characters:

Chris Egan as Captain David Shepherd

Becky Ann Baker as Jessie Shepherd

Eamonn Walker as Reverend Ephram Samuels

Wes Studi as General Linus Abner


The Bible is full of excellent stories ripe for modern adaptations, not just costume dramas.  The former is frequently the best way to go, I am convinced, for such an approach makes the story in question fresher than it would be otherwise.  Consider, for example the power of Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch versions of New Testament books, including Gospels. Transplanting the world of first century CE Roman-occupied Palestine to the U.S. South of the twentieth century works well.

To that column we can add Kings (2009), a short-lived (a two-hour pilot plus eleven other episodes) series from NBC.  The writers and producers rearranged elements from 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel (mostly from the former) and set the series in the Kingdom of Gilboa, based on the Kingdom of Israel yet resembling the United States of America.  Gilboa, in its current form, is a new nation, just three decades old.  Its new capital city, a gleaming metropolis complete with skyscrapers, is the rebuilt Shiloh, which resembles a CGI-altered New York City.  (The series did film in the Big Apple.)  Silas Benjamin, once a general, united three kingdoms–Gilboa, Carmel, and Selah–via war.  He is now the absolute monarch.  Yet he is not all powerful.  His brother-in-law, industrialist William Cross, is a leader in the military-industrial complex and an ardent opponent for peace with the neighboring Republic of Gath.  Peace is bad for business.  Yes, this is the story of Saul and David updated and told with allusions to the Second Iraq War.  There are even allusions to the Israel-Palestine conflict, for a land-for-peace deal is a plot element throughout the series’ brief run.

In the pilot episode, Goliath, we meet David Shepherd, a farm boy whose father died in the Unification War.  David is in military uniform during a follow-up border war with Gath when he rescues the captured Prince Jonathan “Jack” Benjamin from the forces of Gath and destroys a Gath tank, a Goliath, with a well-thrown wrench.  This is a retelling of sorts of 1 Samuel 17.  David, now a national hero, goes to Shiloh and becomes an unwilling pawn in the hands of King Silas, whose glory, he is stealing.  And David falls in love with Princess Michelle (1 Samuel 18:17-30) and even plays the piano.  (The biblical David played the lyre in 1 Samuel 16:14-23.)  The troubled Silas-David relationship in the series ends with David having to flee to Gath (1 Samuel 27:1-28:2) for fear of his life.  The story would have continued had the network not cancelled the series.  (The ratings were low.)

Other interesting parallels occur in the series.  Silas makes an unlawful sacrifice, as in 1 Samuel 13:1-22, but in the show the sacrifice is allowing soldiers to die needlessly.  So the Reverend Ephram Samuels, who helped Silas forge the united Gilboa and install him in power, relates God’s rejection of the monarch.  And Silas has a mistress, Helen Pardis, as Saul had a concubine, Rizpah (2 Samuel 3:7).  Instead of the spirit of Samuel (1 Samuel 28:3-25) Silas consults the deposed King of Carmel, officially dead yet imprisoned at a location code-named Gehenna.  Furthermore, the head of the military is General Linus Abner, a warmonger who betrays Silas and dies by the monarch’s hand.  (Joab killed Abner in 2 Samuel 3:22-39).

There is a Jonathan analog, but Prince Jack in the series is more like Absalom than the biblical Jonathan in some ways.  This Jonathan, like his biblical counterpart, has a troubled relationship with his father.  In the series he resents his father, who dislikes the fact that the crown prince is a homosexual.  That would be acceptable in a second son, Silas says, but those who would have power must surrender what they want.  And Jack is not willing to do that.  The Prince Jack of the series is also a sulking, back-stabbing character who is willing to kill innocents and to frame David for treason–until he is not.  But the guiding rule for Prince Jack is his perceived best interest.

I encourage you, O reader, to find the series and watch it legally.  So I will not reveal all the plot lines.  I also urge you to think deeply about the moral implications of decisions the characters make.  The characters in Kings are flawed; David Shepherd is especially flawed while being very heroic.  These characters make bad decisions.  Sometimes they reap the consequences of these decisions; on other occasions other people do.  But God still acts through many of these same characters.

King Silas, in the pilot episode, tells Reverend Samuels, who has just announced God’s rejection of the monarch,

To hell with God.

In the last episode Silas informs the ghost of Samuels (Silas does not know that he is speaking to the Reverend’s spirit) that he (Silas) and God are at war.  Silas, the rejected chosen one of God, has embraced his rebellion against God.  He does not even labor under the illusion of being on God’s side.  And, with actor Ian McShane playing the part, the scenes are a pleasure to watch.  Yet that pleasure comes mixed with the knowledge that the monarch’s fate did not have to come down to this.









Rereading the Bible Again As If For the First Time   5 comments

Above:  The Reading of the Gospel, St. George’s Episcopal Church, Griffin, Georgia, May 6, 2012

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta


I grew up with the Bible; my father is a United Methodist minister.  Methodists, of course, are not Sola Scriptura people, at least not officially, nor should they be.  Methodists are Quadrilateral people, with the four elements being Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.  Scripture is primary in this formula, which they got from us, their parent tradition, Anglicanism.  The Methodists transformed the Anglican Three-Legged Stool into the Quadrilateral by splitting off experience from reason.

As I have implied, Sola Scriptura is rubbish.  It does not hold water historically, and therefore fails theologically.  Much of the Bible began as oral tradition before entering its written phase of existence.  And the parts which were in writing from the beginning had their roots in tradition.  So Scripture flowed from tradition.  And religious figures defined cannons for Judaism and varieties of Christianity.  The Bible for the earliest Christians was the Hebrew Scriptures.  The earliest (eventually canonical) written Gospel was Mark, composed no earlier than 67 CE.  Paul died before any written Gospel existed.  If the Scriptura does not yet exist or if its definition is not a settled matter, how can Sola Scriptura work?

Speaking of which, there are Christian canons.

  1. Protestant Bibles have 66 books.
  2. Roman Catholic Bibles have 73 books.
  3. Orthodox Bibles, depending on the variety of Orthodoxy, have 76, 78, or 80 books.

I have read all 78 books of the Slavonic Bible.  God help me, I have endured the pure confusion which is 2 Esdras, the Maccabees-devoid 3 Maccabees, and the combination of philosophy and over-the-top hagiographies replete with descriptions of torture which is 4 Maccabees.  And I have concluded that the Council of Trent was correct on at least one matter:  the Bible properly has 73 books.

I travel through that material to arrive at this destination:  Although I have read all 78 books of the Slavonic Bible, I have been rediscovering the Biblical texts while preparing blog devotionals based on lectionaries.  Subtleties which once evaded me have become apparent.  Connections between texts have become obvious to me.  I would not have thought to have paired certain parts of the Old and New Testaments, but I am glad that a lectionary committee did.

Once my Bible study techniques were rather poor, sometimes non-existent.  More than once I devised a plan and got off to a promising start.  Then everything fizzled.  Yet, with these lectionaries and the discipline of blogging, I have found a winning strategy for rereading the Bible again as if for the first time.  I want to read what is next, so I do.

My advice to you, O reader, is to try this approach for yourself, with or without blogging.  There are options.  The Revised Common Lectionary is mostly for Sundays.  It has become the standard for many denominations across the planet.  Thus many ecumenical study materials are based on it.  And the new Sunday lectionary of the Roman Catholic Church is nearly identical to it.  The lectionary texts and many study materials linked to them are available online.

Or maybe you prefer Lutheran options.  The Lutheran Service Book (2006) (, of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, contains a one-year daily lectionary, complete with an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, and the choice of a morning psalm or two evening psalms.  Readings tend to be continuous.  This, in my experience so far, has proven to be an excellent Bible reading plan.  Finding the connections between the Old and New Testament readings has been a great spiritual exercise.  Reading Job and John together, for example, led to some interesting insights.  Meanwhile, in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006) (, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, one finds a three-year daily lectionary built around the Revised Common Lectionary.  On a Thursday the readings built up to the Sunday lessons.  Then they flow from them through Wednesday.  This is the lectionary I have scheduled myself to follow next, for church year 2013-2014.

For Episcopal Church options one can turn to The Book of Common Prayer (1979) and Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010).  The Prayer Book contains the Daily Office, a plan for daily readings (Old Testament, New Testament, and morning and evening psalms) over two years.  The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), incidentally, incorporated the Daily Office with only minor modifications (as far as I can tell, in the choice of psalms per day) into its fifth Book of Common Worship (1993) (  The Episcopal Church has replaced its 1979 Sunday lectionary with the Revised Common Lectionary, so more recent printing runs of the Prayer Book have placed the RCL where the 1979 Lectionary used to be and added the 1979 Lectionary as an appendix.  Over at Holy Women, Holy Men, one can find a set of daily lectionaries to string together through the entire church year to read in lieu of the Daily Office.  And there is a six-week topical lectionary for Monday-Saturday.

Or perhaps one prefers what my brethren in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) offer.  Chalice Hymnal (1995) ( includes a three-year daily lectionary.  For each week there is a designated psalm or portion thereof.  One reads this in conjunction with one of a series of continuous lessons from a rotation of books of the Bible and with a hymn keyed to the lesson.

Maybe you, O reader, prefer an old Scottish Presbyterian lectionary.  If so, look no further than the 1946 U.S. Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (, the third in a line which began in 1906.  This lectionary, mostly for Sundays, offers a psalm and a reading from the Old Testament, an epistle, and a Gospel per day.

In other words, by writing about these options I am offering possibilities in methods of reading and studying the Bible intelligently and methodically.  Above all, O reader, I encourage you to read the Bible intelligently and methodically.  This exercise ought not to be about gathering ammunition for winning arguments.  And prooftexting ought never to be on the table.  This exercise ought not to be about “being right;” it ought to be about being righteous.  And you will certainly discover, as I have, the truth of a sage statement by Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain:

It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.

So be it.








Some Related Posts:

Lamp of Our Feet:

Before a Bible Study:

A Prayer for Opening a Bible Study:

Come, Blessed Spirit! Source of Light:


“And Night Shall Be No More”   1 comment

Above:  The Measuring of the New Jerusalem


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.


Revelation 18:1-2, 21-19:3, 9 (Revised English Bible):

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven; he possessed great authority and the earth shone with his splendour.  In a mighty voice he proclaimed,

Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!  She has become a dwelling for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, for every unclean and loathsome bird….

Then a mighty angel picked up a stone like a great millstone and hurled it into the sea, saying,

Thus shall Babylon, the great city, be sent hurling down, never to be seen again!  The sound of harpists and minstrels, flute-players and trumpeters, shall no more be heard in you; no more shall craftsmen of any trade be found in you, or the sound of the mill be heard in you; no more shall the light of the lamp appear in you, no more shall the voices of the bridegroom and bride be heard in you!  Your traders were once the merchant princes of the world, and with your sorcery you deceived all the nations.

The blood of the prophets and of God’s people was found in her, the blood of all who had been slain on earth.  After this I heard what sounded like a vast throng in heaven shouting:

Hallelujah!  Victory and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgements!  He has condemned the great whore who corrupted the earth with her fornication; he has taken vengeance on her for the blood of his servants.

Once more they shouted:

Hallelujah!  The smoke from her burning will rise for ever!

The angel said to me,

Write this:  ”Happy are those who are invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb!”

He added,

These are the very words of God.

Revelation 20:1-4, 11-21:4 (Revised English Bible):

I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand.  He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the Devil, or Satan, and chained him up for a thousand years; he threw him into the abyss, shutting and sealing it over him,so that he might not seduce the nations again till the thousand years were ended.  After that he must be let loose for a little while.

I saw thrones, and on them sat those to whom judgement was committed.  I saw the souls of those who, for the sake of God’s word and their witness to Jesus, had been beheaded, those who had not worshipped the beast and its image or received its mark on forehead or hand.  They came to life again and reigned with Christ for a thousand years….

I saw a great, white throne, and the One who sits upon it.  From his presence earth and heaven fled away, and there was no room for then any more.  I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne; and books were opened.  Then another book, the book of life, was opened.  The dead were judged by what they had done, as recorded in these books.  The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead in their keeping.  Everyone was judged on the record of his deeds.  Then Death and Hades were flung into the lake of fire.  This lake of fire is the second death; into it were flung any whose names were not to be found in the book of life.

I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had vanished, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband.  I heard a loud voice proclaiming from the throne:

Now God has made his dwelling with mankind!  He will dwell among them and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There shall be an end to death, and to mourning and crying and pain, for the old order has passed away!

Revelation 22:1-7 (Revised English Bible):

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the city’s street.  On either side of the river stood a tree of life, which yields twelve crops of fruit, one for each month of the year.  The leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations.  Every accursed thing shall disappear.  The throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see him face to face and bear his name on their foreheads.  There shall be no more night, nor will they need the light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will give them light; and they shall reign for ever.

He said to me,

These words are trustworthy and true.  The Lord God who inspires the prophets has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.  And remember, I am coming soon!

Psalm 100 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Be joyful in the LORD, all you lands;

serve the LORD with gladness

and come before his presence with a song.

Know this:  The LORD himself is God;

he himself has made us, and we are his;

we are the sheep of his pasture.

3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving;

go into his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and call upon his name.

4 For the LORD is good;

his mercy is everlasting;

and his faithfulness endures from age to age.

Psalm 84 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts!

My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD;

my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

The sparrow has found her a house

and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young;

by the side of your altars, O LORD of hosts,

my King and my God.

3 Happy are they who dwell in your house!

they will always be praising you.

4 Happy are the people whose strength is in you!

whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.

5 Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs,

for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.

6 They will climb from height to height,

and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.

LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;

hearken, O God of Jacob.

8 Behold our defender, O God;

and look upon the face of your Anointed.

For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room,

and to stand in the threshold of the house of my God

than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

10 For the LORD is both sun and shield;

he will give grace and glory;

11 No good thing will the LORD withhold

from those who walk with integrity.

12 O LORD of hosts,

happy are they who put their trust in you!

Psalm 95:1-7 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Come, let us sing to the LORD;

let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.

Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving

and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.

3 For the LORD is a great God,

and a great King above all gods.

In his hand are the caverns of the earth,

and the heights of the hills are his also.

5 The sea is his, for he made it,

and his hands have molded the dry land.

Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee,

and kneel before the LORD our Maker.

7 For he is our God,

and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.

Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!

Luke 21:20-36 (Revised English Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

But when you see Jerusalem encircled by armies, then you may be sure that her devastation is near.  Then those who are in Judaea must take to the hills; those who are in the city itself must leave it and those who are out in the country must not return; because this is the time of retribution, when all that stands written is to be fulfilled.  Alas for women with child in those days, and for those who have children at the breast!  There will be great distress in the land and a terrible  judgement on this people.  They will fall by the sword; they will be carried captive into all countries; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by Gentiles until the day of the Gentiles has run its course.

Portents will appear in sun and moon and stars.  On earth nations will stand helpless, not knowing which way to turn from the roar and surge of the sea.  People will faint with terror at the thought of what is coming upon the world; for the celestial powers will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  When all this begins to happen, stand upright and hold your heads high, because your liberation is near.

Jesus told them a parable:

Look at the fig tree, or at any other tree.  As soon as it bud, you can see for yourselves that summer is near.  In the same way, when you see all this happening, you may know that the kingdom of God is near.

Truly I tell you:  the present generation will live to see it all.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Be on your guard; do not let your minds be dulled by dissipation and drunkenness and worldly cares so that the great day catches you suddenly like a trap; for that day will come on everyone, the whole world over.  Be on the alert, praying at all times for strength to pass safely through all that is coming and to stand in the presence of the Son of Man.


The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Week of Proper 29:  Thursday, Year 1:

Week of Proper 29:  Friday, Year 1, and Week of Proper 29:  Saturday, Year 1:


The Book of Revelation culminates with the destruction of the city (and empire) of Rome and the establishment of God’s order, the New Jerusalem.  The Empire had persecuted Christians and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple there.  The latter was a recent memory for many members of the original audience of both Revelation and Luke.  In fact, as I read Luke 21, I perceive that memories of those traumas influenced the telling of the contents.  How could they not?  We humans tell the past in the context of our present and recent history.

There is good news after all.  Revelation is an essentially optimistic book.

“…and night shall be no more….”

–Revelation 22:5a, Revised Standard Version

Part of the text from Revelation reminded me of an anthem my church choir has sung:

Peace be to you and grace from Him who freed us from our sins,

who loved us all and shed his blood that we might saved be.

Sing holy, holy to our Lord, the Lord Almighty God,

who was and is and is to come,

sing holy, holy Lord.

Rejoice on earth, ye saints below, for Christ is coming soon.

E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come and night shall be more.

They need no light, no lamp, nor sun, for Christ will be their all.

In 1954, Paul and Ruth Manz struggled emotionally through the serious (threatening to be fatal) illness of their three-year-old son, John.  Paul, a Lutheran church organist and composer, set words his wife had adapted from Revelation to music.  John recovered and became a minister.  He presided at his father’s funeral in November 2009.

Those of us who have lived for a sufficiently long time understand the darkness of anguish.  I refer not to mere childhood and adolescent alleged emergencies.  No, I mean potentially soul-shattering grief.  In such circumstances, one wonders how one can carry on.  Christ, who suffered grievously, did more than persist–he triumphed, even over death itself.  The power which made that possible can enable us to survive, continue, rebuild, and thrive.  Yew, we can carry one, in Christ, of course.





Adapted from this post:


Appearances and Other Deceits   1 comment

Above:  Map of the Roman Empire in 117 C.E.


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.


Revelation 14:1-5 (Revised English Bible):

I looked, and there on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him were a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads.  I heard a sound from heaven like a mighty torrent or a great peal of thunder; what  I heard was like harpists playing on their harps.  They were singing a new song before the throne and the four living creatures and the elders, and no one could learn it except the hundred and forty-four thousand ransomed from the earth.  These are men who have kept themselves chaste and have not defiled themselves with women; these follow the Lamb wherever he goes.  They have been ransomed as the firstfruits of mankind for God and the Lamb.  No lie was found on their lips; they are without   fault.

Revelation 14:14-20 (Revised English Bible):

As I looked there appeared a white cloud, on which was seated a figure like a man; he had a gold crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand.  Another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud:

Put in your sickle and reap, for harvest time has come and earth’s crop is fully ripe.

So the one who sat on the cloud swept over the earth with his sickle and the harvest was reaped.

Another angel came out of the heavenly sanctuary, and he also had a sharp sickle.  Then from the altar came yet another, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called aloud to the one with the sharp sickle:

Put in your sickle, and gather in earth’s grape harvest, for its clusters are ripe.

So the angel swept over the earth with his sickle and gathered in its grapes, and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.  The winepress was trodden outside the city, and for a distance of two hundred miles blood flowed from the press to the height of horses’ bridles.

Revelation 15:1-4 (Revised English Bible):

Then I saw in heaven another great and astonishing sign:  seven angels with seven plagues, the last plagues of all, for with them the wrath of God was completed.

I saw what looked like a sea of glass shot through with fire.  Standing beside it and holding the harps which God had given them were those who had been victorious against the beast, its image, and the number of its name.

They were singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

Great and marvellous are your deeds,

O Lord God, sovereign over all;

just and true are your ways,

O King of the ages.

Who shall not fear you, Lord,

and do homage to your name?

For you alone are holy.

All nations shall come and worship before you,

for your just decrees stand revealed.

Psalm 24:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it,

the world and all who dwell therein.

For it is who founded it upon the seas

and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.

“Who can ascend the hill of the LORD?

and who can stand in his holy place?”

“Those who have clean hands and a pure heart,

who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,

nor sworn by what is a fraud.

They shall receive a blessing from the LORD

and a just reward from the God of their salvation.”

Such is the generation of those who seek him,

of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.

Psalm 96 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Sing to the LORD a new song;

sing to the LORD, all the whole earth.

2 Sing to the LORD and bless his Name;

proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.

3 Declare his glory among the nations

and his wonders among all peoples.

4 For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;

he is more to be feared than all gods.

5 As for the gods of the nations, they are but idols;

but it is the LORD who made the heavens.

Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence!

Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!

7 Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples;

ascribe to the LORD honor and power.

Ascribe to the LORD the honor due his Name;

bring offerings and come into his courts.

Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness;

let the whole earth tremble before him.

10 Tell it out among the nations:  ”The LORD is King!

he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;

he will judge the peoples with equity.”

11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;

let the sea thunder and all that is in it;

let the field be joyful and all that is therein.

12 Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy

before the LORD when he comes,

when he comes to judge the earth.

13 He will judge the world with righteousness

and the peoples with his truth.

Psalm 98 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Sing to the LORD a new song,

for he has done marvelous things.

With his right hand and his holy arm

has he won for himself the victory.

3 The LORD has made known his victory;

his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.

4 He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel,

and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands;

lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.

Sing to the LORD with the harp,

with the harp and the voice of song.

With trumpets and the sound of the horn

shout with joy before the King, the LORD.

8 Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it,

the lands and those who dwell therein.

9 Let the rivers clap their hands,

and the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,

when he comes to judge the earth.

10 In righteousness shall he judge the world

and the peoples with equity.

Luke 21:1-19 (Revised English Bible):

As Jesus looked up and saw rich people dropping their gifts into the chest of the temple treasury, he noticed a poor widow putting in two tiny coins.

I tell you this,

he said:

this poor widow has given more than any of them; for those others who have given had more than enough, but she, with less than enough, has given all she had to live on.

Some people were talking about the temple and the beauty of its fine stones and ornaments.  Jesus said,

These things you are gazing at–the time will come when not one stone will be left upon another; they will all be thrown down.

They asked,

Teacher, when will that be?  What will be the sign that these things are about to happen?

He said,

Take care that you are not misled.  For many will come claiming my name and saying, “I am he,” and “The time has come.”  Do not follow them.  And when you hear of wars and insurrections, do not panic.  These things are bound to happen first, but the end does not follow at once.

Then Jesus added,

Nation will go to war against nation, kingdom against kingdom; there will be severe earthquakes, famines, and plagues in many places, and in the sky terrors and great portents.

But before all this happens they will seize you and persecute you.  You will be handed over to synagogues and put in prison; you will be haled before kings and governors for your allegiance to me.  This will be your opportunity to testify.  So resolve not to prepare your defence beforehand, because I myself will give you such words and wisdom as no opponent can resist or refute.  Even your parents and brothers, your relations and friends, will betray you.  Some of you will be put to death; and everyone will hate you for your allegiance to me.  But not a hair of your head will be lost.  By standing firm you will win yourselves life.


The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Week of Proper 29:  Monday, Year 1:

Week of Proper 29:  Tuesday, Year 1:

Week of Proper 29:  Wednesday, Year 1:


Revelation 12 and 13 contain an allegory of evil (Satan) trying and failing to destroy good. The Book of Revelation identifies the Roman Empire with the earthly minions of evil; 13:13 refers to Emperor Nero.  Yet, as we read in Chapter 14, Jesus (the Lamb) is with the martyrs on Mount Zion, a scene reminiscent of Micah 4:6-8.  These martyrs have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.  They are on the side of God, the side which, in Chapter 14, begins the process of destroying evil and its earthly minions, identified with the Roman Empire.

Jesus says in Luke 21 that hardships will come upon the faithful.  He says this in the context of his impending death.  The faithful will face persecution because of their righteousness, so their hardships will not constitute divine punishment for sin.  Family members will even turn on each other some of the time.

But not a hair on your head will win yourselves life.

–Luke 21:18-19, Revised English Bible

The Canadian Anglican lectionary I am following does a good job of covering the main points of Revelation in twelve days.  Yet sometimes it atomizes the text too much, making writing a good devotion for each day difficult.  Yet, if I stand back and stack blocks on top of each other sometimes, I see connections among them clearly.  This is what I perceive as the great lesson for Monday-Wednesday:  Evil might seem to have triumphed, but God will win.  If one is on the side of righteousness, this is encouraging news.  If not, however….





Adapted from this post:


God, On the Side of the Righteous   1 comment

Above:  St. Michael’s Victory Over the Devil, St. Michael’s Cathedral, Coventry, England

Image Source = sansse



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.



Daniel 7:1-27 (Revised English Bible):

In the first year that Belshazzar was king of Babylon, a dream and visions came to Daniel as he lay on his bed.  Then he wrote down the dream, and here his account begins.

In my vision during the night while I, Daniel, was gazing intently I saw the Great Sea churned up by the four winds of heaven, and four great beasts rising out of the sea, each one different from the others.

The first was like a lion, but it had an eagle’s wings.  I watched until its wings were plucked off from the ground and made to stand on two feet as if it were a human being.

Then I saw another, a second beast, like a bear.  It had raised itself on one side, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth.  The command was given to it:  ”Get up and gorge yourself with flesh.”

After this as I gazed I saw another, a beast like a leopard with four wings like those of a bird on its back; this creature had four heads, and it was invested with sovereign power.

Next in the night visions I saw a fourth beast, fearsome and grisly  and exceedingly strong, with great iron teeth.  It devoured and crunched, and it trampled underfoot what was left.  It was different from all the beasts which went before it, and had ten horns.

While I was considering the horns there appeared another horn, a little one, springing up among them, and three of the first horns were uprooted to make room for it.  In this horn were eyes like human eyes, and a mouth that uttered bombast.  As I was looking,

thrones were set in place

and the Ancient in Years took his seat;

his robe was white as snow,

his hair like lamb’s wool.

His throne was flames of fire

and its wheels were blazing fire;

a river of fire flowed from his presence.

Thousands upon thousands served him

and myriads upon myriads were in attendance.

The court sat, and the books were opened.

Then because of the bombast the horn was mouthing, I went on watching until the beast was killed; its carcass was destroyed and consigned to the flames.  The rest of the beasts, though deprived of their sovereignty, were allowed to remain alive until an appointed time and season.  I was watching in visions of the night and I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven; he approached the Ancient in Years and was presented to him.  Sovereignty and glory and kingly power were given to him, so that all people and nations of every language should serve him; his sovereignty was to be an everlasting sovereignty which was not to pass away; and his kingly power was never to be destroyed.

My spirit within me was troubled; and, dismayed by the visions which came into my head, I, Daniel, approached one of those who were standing there and enquired what all this really signified; and he made known to me its interpretation,

These great beasts, four in number,

he said,

are four kingdoms which will arise from the earth.  But the holy ones of the Most High will receive the kingly power and retain possession of it always, for ever and ever.

Then I wished to know what the fourth beast really signified, the beast that was different from all the others, exceedingly fearsome with its iron teeth and bronze claws, devouring and crunching, then trampling underfoot what was left.  I wished also to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn which sprang up at whose coming three of them fell, the horn which had eyes and a mouth uttering bombast and which in its appearance was more imposing than the others.  As I watched, this horn was waging war on holy ones and proving too strong for them until the Ancient in Years came.  Then judgement was pronounced in favor of the holy ones of the Most High, and the time came when the holy ones gained possession of kingly power.

The explanation he gave was this:

The fourth beast signifies a fourth kingdom which will appear on earth.  It will differ from the other kingdoms; it will devour the whole earth, treading it down and crushing it.  The ten horns signify ten kings who will rise from this kingdom; after them will arise another king, who will be different from his predecessors; and he will bring low three kings.  He will hurl defiance at the Most High and wear down the holy ones of the Most High.  He will have it in mind to alter the festival seasons and religious laws; and the holy ones will be delivered into his power for a time, and times, and half a time.  But when the court sits, he will be deprived of his sovereignty, so that it may be destroyed and abolished for ever.  The kingly power, sovereignty, and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the holy people of the Most High.  Their kingly power will last for ever, and every realm will serve and obey them.


Canticle 12, Part II (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

(Part of the Song of the Three Young Men)

Let the the earth glorify the Lord,

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O mountains and hills,

and all that grows upon the earth,

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O springs of water, seas, and streams,

O whales and all that move in the waters.

All birds of the air, glorify the Lord,

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O beasts of the wild,

and all you flocks and herds.

O men and women everywhere, glorify the Lord,

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Psalm 97 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 The LORD is King;

let the earth rejoice;

let the multitude of the isles be glad.

2 Clouds and darkness are round about him,

righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne.

A fire goes before him

and burns up his enemies on every side.

4 His lightnings light up the world;

the earth sees it and is afraid.

The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the LORD,

at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.

The heavens declare his righteousness,

and all the peoples see his glory.

Confounded be all who worship carved images

and delight in false gods!

Bow down before him, all you gods.

Zion hears and is glad, and the cities of Judah rejoice,

because of your judgments, O LORD.

For you are the LORD,

most high over all the earth;

you are exalted far above all gods.

10 The LORD loves those who hate evil;

he preserves the lives of the saints

and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.

11 Light has sprung up for the righteous,

and joyful gladness for those who are truehearted.

12 Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous,

and give thanks to his holy Name.


Canticle 12, Part III (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

(Part of the Song of the Three Young Men)

Let the people of God glorify the Lord,

praise him and highly exalt him forever.

Glorify the Lord, O priests and servants of the Lord,

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Glorify the Lord, O spirits and souls of the righteous,

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

You that are holy and humble of heart, glorify the Lord,

praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Psalm 95:1-7 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Come, let us sing to the LORD;

let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.

Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving

and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.

3 For the LORD is a great God,

and a great King above all gods.

In his hand are the caverns of the earth,

and the heights of the hills are his also.

5 The sea is his, for he made it,

and his hands have molded the dry land.

Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee,

and kneel before the LORD our Maker.

7 For he is our God,

and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.

Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!


Luke 21:29-36 (Revised English Bible):

Jesus told them a parable:

Look at the fig tree, or at any other tree.  As soon as it bud, you can see for yourselves that summer is near.  In the same way, when you see all this happening, you may know that the kingdom of God is near.

Truly I tell you:  the present generation will live to see it all.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Be on your guard; do not let your minds be dulled by dissipation and drunkenness and worldly cares so that the great day catches you suddenly like a trap; for that day will come on everyone, the whole world over.  Be on the alert, praying at all times for strength to pass safely through all that is coming and to stand in the presence of the Son of Man.


The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Daniel 7 dates to the Hasmonean-Seleucid period, despite the claims of 7:1, which place it centuries before that.  In this chapter we have the imagery of cosmic war.  The text speaks of four Gentile kingdoms, most likely, in order, the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, the Median Confederacy, the Persian Empire, and the Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great.  The ten horns are probably Seleucid kings, with Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who usurped three people to become king and who imposed a Hellenization policy on Jews in his realm, as the little horn.  And the Archangel Michael is almost certainly the “one like a human being.”  He is clearly subservient to God, who dispenses judgment in favor the holy ones.

History tells us that the Hasmoneans rebelled against Antiochus IV Epiphanes and established an independent Jewish state, which lasted for nearly a century, until 63 B.C.E., when the Roman Republic, a de facto empire soon to be a de jure one, assumed control.  This brings me to Luke 21, written after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 C.E.  The text places a prediction of the Second Coming of Jesus within the lifetimes of some of the original audience of the Lukan Gospel in the mouth of our Lord.

Yes, Antiochus IV Epiphanes died painfully and the Hasmonean revolt succeeded afterward.  Yes, there was a time of Judean independence.  But the Romans took over.  And, late in the First Century C.E., they destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.  This must have seemed like the end of the world to many people at the time.  Yet Jesus did not return before the original members of Luke’s audience died.

We want to think that we are God’s holy ones, and that, in the cosmic war, God might deign to act as and when we predict.  Thus many people have not only longed for, but predicted the return of Jesus on specific dates for nearly two thousand years.  Each time, our Lord has not appeared and the world has not ended.  The rapture did not occur on May 21, 2011, as Harold Camping predicted.  I act on the assumption that his second date, October 21, 2011, the alleged end of the world, will come and go in the same manner.  We want God to take us away from our troubles, and some cling to doomsday dates in their desperation for deliverance and meaning.

Advent, or the season for preparing for Christmas, begins on the day after the Week of Proper 29:  Saturday.  One of the major themes of Advent is that God is with us in the here and the now.  God does not always take us away from our problems; no, sometimes God joins us amid them.  And when God does this, the form of the Incarnation might not be what we expected.  Jesus did not arrive as a conquering hero, expelling the Roman forces; he came as a helpless infant and died via the most humiliating, prolonged, and painful form of public execution the empire used.  But there was a Resurrection, was there not?

Yet the Roman Empire remained in power for centuries after that.

Other times, when some people think they are involved in cosmic warfare and on the side of light, they take matters into their own hands.  This is very much part of the ideology of radical Islamic terrorism, despite the fact that the Koran condemns murder.  Or, to use an example from Christian history, authorities drew on the cosmic warfare defense to justify the persecution and execution of Jews, Muslims, and accused heretics.  I wonder who the real heretics were.  There is no passage in which Jesus says,

Find those who believe differently from you and exterminate them!

No, we ought to leave the cosmic battle to God, who is full of surprises.  May we embrace them and love our neighbors as ourselves, as our Lord told us to do.







Adapted from this post: