Faith and Works, Part I   1 comment

Above:  James Tissot’s (Public Domain) Depiction of Saint Paul

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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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Romans 1:16-25 (Revised English Bible):

For I am not ashamed of the gospel.  It is the saving power of God for everyone who has faith–the Jew first, but the Greek also–because in it the righteousness of God is seen at work, beginning in faith and ending in faith; as scripture says,

Whoever is justified through faith shall gain life.

Divine retribution is to be seen at work, falling from heaven on all the impiety and wickedness of men and women who in their wickedness suppress the truth.  For all that can be known of God lies plain before their eyes; indeed God himself has disclosed it to them.  Ever since the world began God himself has disclosed it to them.  Ever since the world began his invisible attributes, that is to say his everlasting power and deity, have been visible to the eye of reason, in the things he has made.  Their conduct, therefore, is indefensible; knowing God, they have refused to honour him as God, or to render him thanks.  Hence all their thinking has ended in futility, and their misguided minds are plunged in darkness.  They boast of their wisdom, but they have made fools of themselves, exchanging the glory of  the immortal God for an image shaped like mortal man, even for images like birds, beasts, and reptiles.

For this reason God has given them up to their own vile desires, and the consequent degradation of their bodies.  They have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and have offered reverence and worship to created things instead of to the Creator.  Blessed is he for ever, Amen.

Psalm 19:1-4 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the firmament shows his handiwork.

2  One day tells its tale to another,

and one night imparts knowledge to another.

3  Although they have no words or language,

and their voices are not heard,

4  Their sound has gone out into all lands,

and their message to the ends of the world.

Luke 11:37-41 (Revised English Bible):

When he [Jesus] had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to a meal, and he came in and sat down.  The Pharisee noticed that he had not begun by washing before the meal.  But the Lord said to him,

You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and plate; but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.  You fools!  Did not he who made the outside make the inside too?  But let what is inside be given to charity, and all is clean.

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The Collect:

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; 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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Some Related Posts:

Romans 1:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/there-is-a-book-who-runs-may-read/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/proper-4-year-a/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/eve-of-the-feast-of-saint-francis-of-assisi-october-3/

Mark 7 (Similar to Luke 11):

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/week-of-5-epiphany-tuesday-year-1/

Matthew 15 (Similar to Luke 11):

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/week-of-proper-13-tuesday-year-1/

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“Faith” is a word with more than one meaning.  In Hebrews 11, for example, it means “conviction issuing in action,” as Volume IX of The Interpreters’ Bible (1954) describes it.  Such faith empowers one to endure suffering rather than deny a proposition one cannot prove empirically.  The author of James understood faith to mean intellectual acceptance of a proposition, hence most of James 2.  Faith of that sort is insufficient alone; one needs works, too.

Paul, however, understood faith differently.  For him faith was “the attitude of condition of perfect trust in God’s mercy or ‘grace,’ complete reliance on it–rather than one’s own effort or merit–for one’s salvation, and eager receptivity.”  (The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX, 1954, page 392).   So, when Paul wrote of the sufficiency of faith, he meant this–not what James did when the author of that short epistle wrote,

You see then it is by action and not by faith alone that a man is justified….As the body is dead when there is no breath left in it, so faith divorced from action is dead.  (James 2:24 and 26, Revised English Bible)

Yet for Paul, writing in Romans 1, faith and action could not be divorced from each other.  Rather, his understanding was close to that in Hebrews 11.  These are examples of fine distinctions that merely casual readers and not-so-casual scoffers do not consider important.  Yet such details matter greatly.  I begin with them because starting with an accurate grasp of the text increases my probability of arriving at a correct understanding of what it means.

Let us consider the portion from Luke 11.  (We will continue the story with the post for the next day’s readings.)  Ceremonial washing of hands, pots, and other items was part of Judaism.  It still is, especially if one is Orthodox.  There is nothing wrong with this, for all of us, in our religious traditions, engage in certain acts which make no or little sense to those who believe and practice differently.  The problem was legalism, however.  Insisting on ritual washing while ignoring the Biblical imperatives for social and economic justice annoyed Jesus.  First Century C.E. Palestinian Jewish orthodoxy of the sort Jesus condemned was the kind that one could not afford to practice if one were poor, as were most Jews at that time and place.  So our Lord and Savior condemned an exclusive, self-congratulatory system of religious practice.

Now let us consider Paul’s understanding of faith again.  It is a complete reliance on divine mercy, not one’s merit.  Do see the link between the readings in your life?  In matters of faith–as Paul understood it in Romans 1–are you more like Jesus or his dinner host?  And where ought your answer to that question to lead you spiritually?  I cannot answer that for you.  May you be responsive to God’s leading in your life with regard to this and all other questions.  And may I be likewise responsive to divine guidance in mine.

May the peace of God be with you now and forever.  Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 4, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT FLORIAN OF LORCH, MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT GODEHARD OF HILDESHEIM, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND BISHP

THE FEAST OF SAINT MONICA, MOTHER OF SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON, ABOLITIONIST

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/week-of-proper-23-tuesday-year-1/

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One response to “Faith and Works, Part I

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  1. Pingback: Week of Proper 23: Tuesday, Year 1 « ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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