Archive for July 2014

Liturgies, Litanies, and Hymns: A Worship-Focused History of the Moravian Church Through 1734   12 comments

Herrnhut 1765

Above:  Herrnhut, Saxony, Germany, in 1765, by Gunter Rapp

Image in the Public Domain

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LITURGY IN THE MORAVIAN CHURCH IN AMERICA, PART I

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Faithful God, I pray again,

Give me patience in my pain,

For Christ’s sake grant soft release,

Let Thy servant pass in peace;

Then with all Thy saints above

Let me praise Thy boundless love.

–from Hymn #854, Hymnal and Liturgies of the Moravian Church (Unitas Fratrum) (1923); text (1661) by John Amos Comenius; translated (1903) by J. N. Libby

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I.  PREFACE AND INTRODUCTION

The Moravian missions to the mainland of North America started in 1735.  For that reason Part II of this series will commence with that year.  Before I arrive at that point in the narrative and analysis I must, if I am to cover the material properly, lay the foundation.  That is my task in this post.

You, O reader, might find my background germane.  My initial theological formation occurred in a series of United Methodist parsonages in the South Georgia Conference in the 1980s.  In 1991 I converted to The Episcopal Church, the natural denominational choice for me.  Since then my theology has gone through stages, becoming more Roman Catholic then less so then more so again then substantially Lutheran, but with Transubstantiation remaining in the mix.  To that theological stew I have added Single Predestination (a Lutheran influence), so could not, if I wanted to do so, return to The United Methodist Church and remain intellectually honest.  I left that denomination on amicable terms, not in protest against anything.  My departure was a matter of going toward my spiritual home.  At that home I intend to remain, for I was born to be an Episcopalian.

Moravianism is, as constitutional documents of that Church state, a religion of the heart.  Thus it has common ground with Evangelicalism (in the traditional American use of that word), especially the Pietistic side thereof.   Pietism originated as an alternative to overly theoretical and academic Lutheran theology.  Among the founders of Pietism was Phillip Jakob Spener (1635-1705), author of Pia Desideria (Pious Desires, 1675).  Pietism is neither all good nor bad, but I, not a Pietist, note that it, in its extreme manifestations, devolves into legalism quickly and easily.  Our Lord and Savior violated and rejected legalistic rules and got into much trouble for that fact, but many of his followers have, in his name, written new legalistic rules.  The irony of that reality astounds and dismays me.

August Hermann Franke (1663-1727), who studied under Spener, advocated turning to one’s heart for piety.  Martin Luther had contended simply:

I am baptized.  I am a Christian,

consistent with this theology of the spoken word and the faithfulness of God.  Franke, however, considered Luther’s theology on this subject inadequate and inaccurate.  He insisted on the crucial role of an experience of conversion.  Such an experience  lack, but my Christian faith is genuine.  So I, although regenerate in the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican theologies of baptismal regeneration, am “born from above” if not “”born again” (in the familiar Evangelical use of that term).

The emphasis on religion of the heart–that is, an emotional religion, leaves me quite cold, for I am more intellectual than emotional.  Thus the high level or rationalism in Anglicanism appeals to me.  And the overly individualistic nature of much of Evangelicalism (in the traditional American use of that term) –especially the Pietistic element thereof–contradicts the properly communitarian nature (inherited from Judaism) of Christianity.  Yet the Moravians, I am glad to report, have a history of a strong communal focus.  Their religion of the heart focuses not on their hearts but on the body of Jesus of Nazareth, as in the Liturgy of the Wounds.

Before I proceed I ought to define some terms, so I do so now.

  1. Unitas Fratrum, Latin for the “Unity of the Brethren,” is the official name of the worldwide Moravian Church.
  2. The Ancient Unity, or Bohemian Brethren, was the Moravian Church from its founding (officially March 1, 1457) to its disruption after the Battle of White Mountain (1620), during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648).
  3. The Hidden Seed was the Moravian Church during its time in the political and cultural underground of Europe after the Battle of White Mountain.
  4. The Renewed Unitas Fratrum is the modern Moravian Church, from August 13, 1727, the Moravian Pentecost.
  5. A litany is a responsive, standardized church prayer.  Moravians have built church services around litanies, for one litany, with germane elements added, has provided the structure for many a service.
  6. Liturgy” is a trickier word to define.  This series of posts is Liturgy in the Moravian Church in America, with “liturgy” indicating a predictable pattern of worship, which is my standard definition of it, per Father Peter Ingeman, who retired recently from his position of Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta, Georgia.  He insisted that even “non-liturgical churches,” which do not use a service book, are actually liturgical so long as they have a regular pattern of worship.  In narrow definitions, however, “liturgy,” in Moravian contexts, refers either to the entire worship service or to a long hymn which provides the structure for an entire service.

Now, without further ado….

II.  FROM JOHN WYCLIFFE TO THE AFTERMATH OF THE HUSSITE WARS

The Moravian Church is the oldest Protestant denomination, predating Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses (1517) by sixty years.  The Protestant movements did not spring from nothing.  No, they had deep roots.

The story begins in the late 1340s and early 1350s, when the Black Death (most likely a combination of agents, including the Bubonic Plague), devastated Europe.  Some estimates of the death toll exceed half of the population, but conservative educated guesses are closer to one-third or two-fifths.  Even the cautious estimate range (about 33-40%), within less than five years, speaks of economic and societal trauma.  Urban workers became more assertive, peasants rebelled, and traditional power structures felt threatened.  The Marxian Conflict Theory I learned in college tells me that those structures, given their exploitative and corrupt nature, deserved all the rebellion with which they had to contend.  Among the most powerful and scrutinized institutions was the Roman Catholic Church, which has had its ups and downs over nearly two thousand years.

John Wycliffe

John Wycliffe (circa 1330-1384) was an English Roman Catholic priest and professor of philosophy and theology at Oxford.  He espoused some then-radical positions, which included the following:

  1. Each Christian should have a direct and unmediated relationship with God.  Priests and the Church were not necessary as mediators; Christ is the only mediator.
  2. No national Church should have to endure or tolerate Papal interference.
  3. The Holy Scriptures should be available to the people in their vernacular language.  Thus Wycliffe began the project (1380-1397) of translating the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome into English.  From Wycliffe came to the tradition of English-language Bibles.
  4. The doctrine of Transubstantiation of the bread and wine at the Mass lacks Scriptural support and is false.

Wycliffe, who condemned the corrupt Papacy (headquartered at Avignon, France,  not at Rome), under the influence of the French monarchy, had to retire from Oxford in 1381.  There was no Inquisition for him, but authorities had scapegoated him for the Peasants’ Revolt that year and forced him out of office.  In the next century, however, on Papal orders, officials exhumed his bones and burned them.  Wycliffe was officially a heretic.

Yet ecclesiastical authorities failed at killing Wycliffe’s ideas, which Jan Hus and Martin Luther credited as influences.  Then there were the Lollards, an English group which expanded upon Wycliffe’s theology.  They sounded very much like Protestants (a word which did not exist until 1539) for they rejected the entire Roman Catholic sacramental system and refuted the doctrine of Purgatory.  The Lollards, composed mostly of artisans and merchants, were a theological minority group.  They, like many other minorities over time, were quite unpopular.

Heretic Shirt July 29, 2014

Above:  My “Heretic” Shirt, Draped Over a Desk Chair

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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Jan Hus

Jan (Anglicized as John) Hus (1372-1415), a Bohemian (Czech) priest and scholar of peasant origin, read and translated works of John Wycliffe and Lollards.  Hus, from 1401 the Dean of the philosophy faculty at the University of Prague, lived during the Great Schism of the Papacy (1378-1417), when more than one man claimed the Papal office simultaneously.  The Roman line was:

  1. Urban VI (r. 1378-1389),
  2. Boniface IX (r. 1389-1404),
  3. Innocent VII (r. 1404-1406), and
  4. Gregory XII (r. 1406-1417).

The Avignon line, officially Antipapal after the fact, consisted of:

  1. Clement VII (r. 1378-1394) and
  2. Benedict XIII (r. 1394-1417).

There was a third line, also officially Antipapal after the fact.  The Council of Pisa (1409) deposed (or claimed to depose) Gregory XII and Benedict XIII (both of whom remained in office anyway) and created the line of Council Popes:

  1. Alexander V (r. 1409-1410) and
  2. John XXIII (r. 1410-1415), whom I hope nobody will confuse with “Good Pope John” XXIII (r. 1958-1963), a great and holy man.

The Council of Constance deposed Gregory XII and Benedict XIII (for real this time) as well as the first John XXIII, replacing them with Martin V (r. 1423-1431).  There remained unfinished business from the Great Schism, however, for there was one Clement VIII (r. 1423-1429), who reconciled with Rome and spent his last years as the Bishop of Majorca.  And there was one Benedict XIV (r. 1425-?), who disappeared from history.  The Papacy was, however, back in Rome without serious question of that fact.

During the Great Schism of the Papacy the kingdoms, empires, and principalities of Europe lined up in support of one Papal claimant or another, creating a mess which did not cover the Roman Catholic Church in glory.  This was a theological question of the utmost importance for many people, for many people thought that following the wrong Pontiff might lead them to damnation.  Meanwhile, the list of Roman Catholic martyrs become longer and questions regarding ecclesiastical authority became more widespread.

Hus, who made the University of Prague a hotbed of Wycliffian and Lollard thought, ran afoul of the Council Popes.  Alexander V forbade Hus from preaching and ordered the Archbishop of Prague to burn copies of Wycliffe’s books.  Hus remained defiant.  The first John XXIII excommunicated Hus fully and an interdict on his followers.  Hus remained defiant.  The Church, on the authority of the Council of Constance, burned copies of his writings and the man himself on July 6, 1415.  Among the forty-seven charges of heresy were denying Papal infallibility, supporting the right of priests to marry, and condemning indulgences.

Jan Hus was dead, but his ideas and those he found and spread abroad remained alive.  They continue to live, of course.  And the Moravian and Episcopal Churches observe the feast of Jan Hus on July 6.

The Hussite Wars and Their Aftermath

Among the strengths of Roman Catholicism is centralized authority (except during the Great Schism of the Papacy, of course).  This facilitates abuses (such as the Inquisitions) sometimes, but does provide for order.  Such order was sorely lacking in the nascent Hussite movement immediately after the martyrdom of Jan Hus, hence the Hussite Wars (1420-1431) and subsequent violence.  Related to theological disputes was the politics of monarchy in Bohemia, a thicket in which I refuse to become lost in this post.  Another thicket I choose to avoid is the complexity of Hussite factionalism during those early decades.  The two major factions, however, were the Calixtines/Utraquists and the Taborites.

Terms such as “radical,” “revolutionary,” “liberal,” “conservative,” and “reactionary” are inherently relative to the center, wherever that is in any given context.  So I hope that you, O reader, will understand what I mean when I write that the Calixtines/Utraquists were revolutionaries and radicals, for they were Hussites in mostly Roman Catholic Europe, but they were, by the standards of other Hussites, conservatives.  They, based out of the University of Prague, considered partaking of the Holy Eucharist crucial to salvation.  The sacrament, they insisted, must be in both kinds–bread and wine–as opposed to the traditional practice of giving the laity bread alone.  The Calixtines/Utraquists also favored civil courts alone, meaning the abolition of special eccleasiastical courts for the clergy.  And they opposed political activity by members of the clergy.  The Calixtines/Utraquists, with aristocratic support, were the established Hussite faction.  Many of them, being relatively conservative in their political-religious milieu, returned to Holy Mother Church.

In contrast were the Taborites.  They borrowed a page from Acts of the Apostles 4:32-37 and lived communally, without private property.  They were closer to the Lollards than to the Calixtines/Utraquists, rejecting the Roman Catholic sacramental system, accepting only two sacraments, and embracing iconoclasm (in its original meaning).  The Taborites also rejected “worldly amusements” and called for violence against aristocrats, such as those who supported the Calixtines/Utraquists.  Many of the Taborites expected Jesus to return in 1420.  That prediction proved as inaccurate as did all other prognostications of dates for the Second Coming.

The Adamites split off from the Taborites.  The Adamites not only committed violence against people (such as Roman Catholics) who disagreed with them, but considered themselves the elect of God.  And they practiced nudism and considered marriage sinful.  One goal of the Adamites was to return to the pre-Fall Edenic state of human innocence.  They failed, and Taborites all but exterminated the sect in 1421.

Violence between the Calixtines/Utraquists and the Taborites continued for years, even after the official end of the Hussite Wars.  It was literally a bloody mess.

III.  THE ANCIENT UNITY/BOHEMIAN BRETHREN AND THE HIDDEN SEED (1457-1722)

Gregory the Patriarch

The official date of the founding of the Moravian Church (Unitas Fratrum) from the ashes of the Hussite Wars is, according to official hymnals and calendars, March 1, 1457.  J. E. Hutton, in a footnote in his History of the Moravian Church (1909), argued that this date is arbitrary and “only a pious imagination.”  He continued:

We are not quite sure of he year, not to speak of the month.  If the Moravian Church must have a birthday, March 1st, 1457, will do as well as any other; but the truth is that on this point precise evidence has not yet been discovered.

Regardless of the state of discoveries in Moravian history since 1909, one does find a consensus regarding the identity of the founder of the Unitas Fratrum.  He was Gregory the Patriarch (circa 1420-1473), nephew of John Rockycana, the Calixtine/Ultaquist Archbishop-Elect of Prague since 1448.  Gregory, a former monk and the son of a knight, found Peter of Chelcic (circa 1390-circa 1460), a Taborite preacher, influential.  Thus the Unitas Fratrum emerged from the mixing of Calixtine/Ultaquist and Taborite influences.  Strong Wycliffian and communal strands came via the Taborite influences, but the initial settlement in the Kunwald Valley had support from King George Podiebrad and Rockycana, who interceded on behalf of the Moravians with the monarch.

Thus, O reader, we find an early example of the willingness to disagree on much while maintaining unity.  This is one of the best aspects of the Moravian Church.  As a traditional motto of the Unitas Fratrum older than that denomination says:

In essentials unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, love.

Moravians have disagreed about what is essential, but their denomination has traditionally been one of the more tolerant Christian bodies.  Thus they have been fine witnesses for Christ amid the notoriously fractious and schismatic branch of Christianity called Protestantism.  Many of these schisms have occurred for legalistic reasons.  Just over a century old, for example, is the Church of God (Guthrie, Oklahoma), which formed in protest against perceived liberalism in the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana).  That alleged liberalism consisted of deciding that men wearing neckties to church were not violating Biblical standards.  Neckties remained ungodly in the Guthrie denomination.

The Ancient Unity created its ministerial orders–the priesthood and the episcopate–in 1467.  The present Moravian bishops stand in succession with the earliest bishops of the Unitas Fratrum.

Luke of Prague

Among the most influential bishops of the Ancient Unity was Luke of Prague (circa 1458-1528), who joined the Bohemian Brethren in 1481.  He was the young Church’s most influential theologian and writer, especially of hymns.  And what else are hymns but sung theology, especially for a denomination for which congregational singing is a hallmark?  Luke might have been one of the editors of the Czech hymnal of 1501, the first Protestant hymnbook.  Information about this volume of eighty-nine hymns is sketchy, for no known copy of the book exists.  We do know, however, that Luke edited the Czech hymnal of 1505, the first proper Moravian hymnbook.  Again, no known copy survives, but sources indicate that it contained about 400 hymns.  And Luke edited the Czech hymnal of 1519, of which no known copies survive.  (I detect an unfortunate pattern regarding the lack of availability of primary sources.)  This volume contained Roman Catholic texts translated into Czech, indicating the editor’s receptiveness to the best of that tradition at the dawn of the Protestant Reformation.

Various Hymnals

The lineage of Moravian hymnals continued after Luke’s death:

  1. The first German-language hymnbook of the Brethren debuted in 1531.  Michael Weisse, the editor, provided a book of 157 hymns with tunes.  (In fact, all of the early Moravian hymnals, starting with that of 1505, contained words and music.)  Weisse, however, included hymns with a Eucharistic theology which rejected the real presence of Christ and favored the Zwinglian position of a purely symbolic act.  Thus, in 1544, Jan Roh (Anglicized as John Horn) (circa 1485/90-1547) revised this hymnal, replacing certain texts and changing the Eucharistic theology to indicate the real presence.  Three known copies of the 1544 hymnal remain.  Roh/Horn was qualified to evaluate theology, for he had worked on the official Moravian confession of faith in 1532 and 1535 and, like Luke of Prague before him, engaged in theological dialogue with Martin Luther.
  2. Roh/Horn had also edited the 1541 Czech hymnal, a revision of the 1501 hymnbook, of which no known copies exist.
  3. There were also Polish-language hymnals before the Polish Brethren merged with the Polish Lutherans in 1570.  The first hymnbook was that of 1554.  The second, revised and enlarged from the first, debuted in 1569.
  4. Jan Blahoslav (1523-1571), a bishop from 1557, wrote Musica (1558), a book about how to sing hymns properly.  Three years later he finished editing the Czech hymnal of 1561, which contained 761 texts and more than 450 melodies.
  5. Kirchengesang, the German-language Moravian hymnal of 1561, contained 348 hymns plus an appendix of 108 Lutheran hymns.  This volume was as much about politics as it was about theology in a setting in which the separation of church and state was a novel idea.  This book, reprinted in 1580, remained in print in the subsequent editions of 1606, 1639, 1661, and 1694.

Religious persecution had been a reality for the Moravian Church since 1461.  By the early 1600s, however, the situation had become dire.  Evidence of this comes via the Czech hymnal of 1618, some copies of which survive.  The annotator, whose job was to identify the authors of texts, stopped by the middle of the volume.  His fate remains a mystery, but one might surmise reasonably that it had something to do with the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648).  After the Protestant defeat in the Battle of White Mountain (1620), Roman Catholic forces drove the Moravian Church underground, seized Moravian church buildings, and nearly extinguished the Brethren.  Yet a “hidden seed” survived for about a century.

John Amos Comenius

The Moravian Church weathered a severe storm for about a century.  One reason for its survival was Jan Amos Komensky (Anglicized as John Amos Comenius) (1592-1670), a bishop who wrote a history of the Unitas Fratrum, reprinted the catechism and the confession of faith, maintained the continuity of the episcopate, and spent two periods in exile.  His written legacy proved crucial to maintaining the Church.  Indeed, in the 1720s, when Moravian fortunes were brighter, the faithful depended greatly on the works of this great man.  And, at that time, there was still an episcopal line because had passed the torch before he died.

Comenius, whom contemporaries recognized as an expert and pioneer in the field of education, edited the last Czech hymnal (that of 1659) of the Brethren.  He did this in exile in Amsterdam and designed the volume accordingly, for it was sufficiently small to fit inside a pocket.

Comenius had done much to preserve the hidden seed of the Moravian Church.  The work of facilitating its renewal fell to another man.

IV.  HERRNHUT AND THE RENEWED UNITAS FRATRUM (1722-1734)

Count Zinzendorf and the Renewal

That man was Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760), who owned a large estate at Berthelsforf, inside the current borders of the Federal Republic of Germany.  Zinzendorf, a Lutheran, proved to be the most influential figure in the Unitas Fratrum in the 1700s.  Not only did he provide a safe haven for Moravians at his estate (starting in 1722), but he, a Lutheran minister from 1735 and a Moravian bishop from 1737, wrote sermons, Bible commentaries, and more than 2000 hymns.

Moravian exiles formed a village, Herrnhut (“the watch of the Lord”) on Zinzendorf’s estate in 1722.  For five years substantial differences among the Brethren remained, but the Count formulated the “Brotherly Agreement,” which the Moravians adopted on May 12, 1727, to settle these disagreements.  Three months later, at a Wednesday service in preparation for the Holy Communion at Herrnhut, the congregation found a sense of unity.  The date was August 13, 1727, the official date of the founding of the Renewed Unitas Fratrum.  The event, according to Zinzendorf, was the Moravian Pentecost.

Developments in Worship

Moravians developed liturgical practices in the safe environment of Herrnhut:

  1. Among the oldest Moravian forms is the Church Litany, based on a text which Martin Luther wrote, in turn based on a Roman Catholic litany.  The rather lengthy Church Litany constitutes the basis of a separate, non-preaching service.  Baptisms and ordinations are among the optional elements one might plug into it.
  2. Moravians have used the Daily Texts since 1728.  These function well as either congregational or individual devotions.  They draw from the Bible and hymns, for hymns function prominently in Moravian theology.  Lutherans emphasize their core doctrines in written confessions of faith, such as those in the Book of Concord.  But the Moravians, who have original and secondhand confessions of faith (even from the Lutherans), use hymns to emphasize core doctrines more than Lutherans do.  One may purchase each year’s copy of the Daily Texts from Moravian provincial publishing houses and read each day’s Daily Texts at official websites, such as this one.  Related to the Daily Texts are the watchwords, which also started in 1728.
  3. The now-traditional baptismal service dates to 1730.
  4. The now-traditional Communion service dates to 1731.
  5. The now-traditional Easter dawn service dates to 1732.
  6. The now-traditional Watchnight service for New Year’s Eve dates to 1733.

Other traditional Moravian services came later.

Early Missions

Moravian missions began in 1732.  (The Moravian Church Desk Calendar and Plan Book 2014 lists August 21 as the anniversary of that event.)  The mission to St. Thomas started in 1732.  The Greenland mission followed on January 19, 1733.  And the missions to the mainlands of South America (at Suriname) and North America (at Georgia) began in 1735.  Thus Part II of this series will begin with 1735.

V.  CONCLUSION

Ecumenism has long been one of my priorities.  Yes, I have staked out my ground (generally socially and theologically liberal yet somewhat liturgically conservative, consistent with much of early Anglican Catholicism), but I do not pretend or presume that everyone ought to be like me.  I have opinions, by which I stand, but Christian traditions other than my own enrich my spiritual life.  The best of Moravianism overlaps significantly with the best of my adopted Anglicanism; collegiality is a shared value.

I have, from time to time in this post, made some critical comments also.  I hope that my readers will have sufficiently thick skins to accept without offense the objective reality of shameful periods in church history (many of which the Roman Catholic Church and  other denominations have acknowledged frankly, to their credit) as well as the existence of differing opinions.  The truth is that I like both the Roman Catholic Church and the Moravian Church:

  1. Rome is Holy Mother Church; I respect her while admitting my disagreements with her.  And the Vatican has admitted and apologized for shameful periods of church history, such as the Crusades and the Inquisitions.  It has even rehabilitated Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), whose alleged heresy was stating that the Earth revolves around the Sun, thereby calling into question centuries of bad theology predicated upon an erroneous understanding of the solar system.  He also placed the words of the Pope in the mouth of a blathering idiot in the Dialogues, an impolitic action.  And, at the time, many Protestant leaders were as dubious of the Copernicus-Galileo hypothesis as Rome was.  Pope Francis has done much to bring glory to the name of Christ; may the Holy Father continue to succeed in that effort.  His Papacy is possibly the best thing to happen to the Roman Catholic Church and the rest of Christianity in a long time, despite much persistent anti-Roman Catholic bias in the right and left wings of Protestantism.
  2. The Moravians do not constitute an ecclesiastical presence in my vicinity, so geography is one factor which keeps me separate from them.  Certain theological differences would have the same effect if geography were not an issue, however.  Nevertheless, the Moravians, I am convinced, have contributed much that is positive to the Universal Church and continue to do so.  The world is a better place due to their presence.

During much of the researching and drafting of this post I played (again and again) a compact disc of early American Moravian music to get into the proper intellectual and cultural context.  It is lovely music with a distinctly European classical sound–just the kind of genre I like.  So, if you are interested, O reader, I encourage you to seek out by means both legal and ethical Lost Music of Early America:  Music of the Moravians (1998), by the Boston Baroque, Martin Pearlman, Director.  The number is Telarc CD-80482.

Until Part II, O reader….

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 29, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MARY AND MARTHA OF BETHANY, FRIENDS OF JESUS

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BIBLIOGRAPHY OF HARDCOPY SOURCES

Ackroyd, Peter.  Foundation:  A History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors.  New York, NY:  St. Martin’s Press, 2011.

Cantor, Norman F.  In the Wake of the Plague:  The Black Death and the World It Made.  New York:  The Free Press, 2001.  Reprint, paperback, 2002.

Cary, Phillip.  The History of Christian Theology Course Guidebook.  Chantilly, VA:  The Teaching Company, 2008.

Frank, Albert H.  Companion to the Moravian Book of Worship.  Winston-Salem, NC:  Moravian Music Foundation, 2004.

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints.  New York, NY:  Church Publishing, 2010.

Hymnal and Liturgies of the Moravian Church.  Bethlehem, PA:  Moravian Church in America, 1969.

Hymnal and Liturgies of the Moravian Church (Unitas Fratrum).  Bethlehem, PA:  Moravian Church in America, 1923.

Hutton, J. E.  A History of the Moravian Church.  London, England:  Moravian Publication Office, 1909.  Reprint.

Kelly, J. N. D.  The Oxford Dictionary of Popes.  New York, NY:  Oxford University Press, 1986.

Knouse, Nola Reed, ed.  The Music of the Moravian Church in America.  Rochester, NY:  University of Rochester Press, 2008.

Metzger, Bruce M., and Roland E. Murphy, eds.  The New Oxford English Bible with the Apocrypahal/Deuterocanonical Books–New Revised Standard Version.  College Edition.  New York, NY:  Oxford University Press, 1994.

Moravian Book of Worship.  Bethlehem, PA:  Moravian Church in America, 1995.

Moravian Church Desk Calendar and Plan Book 2014.  Bethlehem, PA:  Interprovincial Board of Communications, 2013.

Moynihan, Brian.  The Faith:  A History of Christianity.  New York, NY:  Doubleday, 2002.

Stearns, Peter N., ed.  The Encyclopedia of World History:  Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Chronologically Arranged.  New York, NY:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.

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Regarding Asceticism and Fun-Damn-Mentalism   2 comments

33887v

According to the Reverend Henry Harbaugh, these man were sinning.

Image Creator and Publisher = Bain News Service

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ggbain-33887

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Therefore, my friends, I implore you by God’s mercy to offer your selves to [God]:  a living sacrifice, dedicated and fit for his acceptance, the worship offered by mind and heart.  Conform no longer to the pattern of this present world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds.  Then you will be able to discern the will of God, and to know what is good, acceptable, and perfect.

–Romans 12:2, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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Life is good.  My life is an enjoyable one, a time filled with graces small, medium, and large.  Today, for example, I ate lunch with my beloved.  It was a fine meal in terms of both cuisine and company.

During that meal my mind wandered into theological matters.  My recent background reading for a series, Liturgy in the Moravian Church in America, soon to debut at this weblog, has brought many details to my attention.  Among them is the porous boundary between the sacred and the secular in Moravian tradition.  Often one’s approach makes all the difference on that spectrum.  Yes, some matters in the secular realm can never be sacred, but many can.  Laurence Libin, writing in the Foreword to The Music of the Moravian Church in America, provided an excellent illustration of that principle on page xv.  Once a strict minister chastised some single members of the congregation for playing sacred music on instruments on Sunday and serenades on the same instruments during the week.  An elder replied that the pastor preached with the same mouth he used to eat sausages.

Asceticism is a religious tradition with Christian expressions.  In Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, from the time of early Christianity to today, one can find examples of people seeking to make themselves uncomfortable, if not miserable, for Christ’s sake.  A partial catalog includes wearing a hairshirt, flagellating oneself, living atop a pillar, and having oneself nailed to a cross on Good Friday.  A few years ago I read about an Eastern Orthodox monk (later canonized) who lived in a cramped cell at the top of a winding and incredibly narrow staircase.  Such practices are foreign to my spirituality, for I do not seek opportunities to make myself uncomfortable, if not miserable, for anybody’s sake.  Asceticism has functioned as a self-imposed substitute for enduring persecution and facing martyrdom.  That makes three more things I hope to avoid, not that I endeavor to live rather than renounce Christ.

Related to asceticism is fun-damn-mentalism.  The Reverend Charles Finney (1792-1875) was a killjoy.  He condemned anything he considered self-indulgent, such as the consumption of meat, tea, coffee, and pastries or the practice of women wearing ribbons in their hair of fashionable clothing on their bodies.  On the other hand, he instructed people to maintain good posture, clean their nails, and do their laundry for the glory of God.  (“Sit up straight, sit up straight for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross….”  Sing along with me!)  Finney was suspicious of other appetites, such as that for fine literature.  He did not understand how a Christian could give time, attention, and shelf space to works of “a host of triflers and blasphemers of God,” such as William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, and Lord George Gordon Byron.  Likewise, the Reverend Henry Harbaugh (1817-1867), of German immigrant stock, had, in the words of Dr. Nathan C. Schaeffer, “hatred of every form of sham and humbug.”  This “sham and humbug” included not only such bad activities as drinking to excess and gambling, but dancing, reading novels, playing chess, playing dominoes, attending circuses, and wearing fashionable clothes.  (Be a joyless and overly earnest frump for Jesus!)

Contemporary killjoys, opponents of “worldly amusements,” continue to try to stamp out innocent entertainment.  I have heard (from a reliable source in Statesboro, Georgia) of quite strict Christian parents who will not permit their children to play soccer because the sport is “too worldly.”  Dancing has attracted criticism for a long time; the Roman Catholic Church condemned it before there were Protestants.  I can name at least one Protestant denomination which persists in its anti-dancing theological position.  These examples point to the misapplication of the Pauline ethic not being conformed to the world.  The Apostle did not mean to go through life as if one’s mother had weaned one on a dill pickle.

As for novels, just to focus on one of the targets of criticism by Finney and Harbaugh (and the Puritans before them), I make the following observations.  I have enjoyed a wide range of novels, from science fiction epics to historical fiction to comedy to serious works.  Some of them I classify as much theological as literary.  Others were just good reads.  Voltaire, a great intellect, writer, and smartass (It is better than being a dumbass!), gave us Candide, a hoot.  T. R. Pearson‘s A Short History of a Small Place, a hilarious story about life in a small North Carolina town from the perspective of a boy, contains an unforgettable account of a well-planned church Christmas pageant gone horribly wrong.  (The Virgin Mary dropped the baby Jesus, breaking his porcelain head, and startling the “camel,” who started barking uncontrollably.)  Graham Greene, a great Roman Catholic novelist, gave us both comedy and theology.  Our Man in Havana still makes me laugh, and I class The Power and the Glory with works of theology.  Frank Herbert‘s Dune and its sequels (I got lost in book five of six.)  are tales of politics, ecology, economics, religion, and struggles over scarce natural resources.  Philip K. Dick‘s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a meditation on hope, desperation, and what makes us human.  The book is much darker and better than even the final cut of the movie adaption, Blade Runner (1982), actually.  Graham Swift‘s Waterland, written in stream of consciousness, is a depressing tale which keeps me coming back for more.  The list of novels which has affected me deeply goes on and on.

Finally, where did I put my dominoes?  I feel like sinning again any moment now.  Wait, I cannot find them; perhaps I will have to settle for dancing instead.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 25, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAMES BAR-ZEBEDEE, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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SOURCES (OTHER THAN MY MEMORY)

Haeussler, Armin.  The Story of Our Hymns:  The Handbook to the Hymnal of the Evangelical and Reformed Church.  St. Louis, MO:  Eden Publishing House, 1952.

Knouse, Nola Reed, ed.  The Music of the Moravian Church in America.  Rochester, NY:  University of Rochester Press, 2008.

Sellers, Charles.  The Market Revolution:  Jacksonian America, 1815-1846.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 1991.

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Compassion for Feral Cats   Leave a comment

Snapshot_20140720

Above:  The Beginning of the Draft of This Post

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

–Luke 6:36, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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A few months ago I started feeding a feral cat family which had moved in close to my back door.  Crystal, the mother, and her kittens, Pat and Leslie, ate well.  Much of that time, of course, Crystal ate all of the food, for the kittens were still nursing.  So I fed them indirectly.  They did, however, reach the age at which they ate solid food.

Of the three cats only two remain, for Pat (a white cat with differently colored eyes, just like his mother), has left for parts unknown.  (At least I assume that Pat is male; I have never gotten close enough even to pet the creatures.)  Crystal roams the top of the hill where I live, and Leslie, an adorable tuxedo kitten, stays close to home.  Both mother and daughter (I assume that Leslie is female) dine near my back door, but Leslie seems to need the food more.  Crystal’s hunting skills are excellent; I have seen evidence of that.  But, to the best of my knowledge, Leslie does not hunt.  As my beloved has said, Leslie needs us.

These cats cannot reciprocate, for they have not become socialized to people.  Crystal has at least ceased to hiss at me, but she keeps a certain distance.  Leslie stares and meows at me, usually around mealtime.  Yet I notice that sometimes, after the child has consumed some cat food (especially her favorite, canned food), she comes to the back door, looks at me through the glass, and meows.  What is she saying?  I wonder.  I suppose that she spends some amount of time trying to understand me as best she can.  She observes me bringing her fresh food and water.  That much helps the relationship along.  And I have observed cats long enough to recognize when the proverbial wheels are turning inside a feline head.  Whatever Leslie does with regard to me, she does it from a distance.  She might never become a lap cat, but I adore her for who she is.  And I accept as sufficient Leslie’s mere proximity.

“Be merciful,” our Lord and Savior said.  Give without expectation of repayment, he continued.  After all, God has been merciful to us and nothing we can do in response will even approach the definition of repayment.  But we can, among other things, pass the grace along freely.  Each of us can do something of the sort.  I can do care actively for my feral feline neighbors, and I so so joyfully.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 20, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL HANSON COX, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND ABOLITIONIST; AND HIS SON, ARTHUR CLEVELAND COXE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WESTERN NEW YORK, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANSEGIUS OF FONTANELLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH CADY STANTON, AMELIA BLOOMER, SOJOURNER TRUTH, AND HARRIET ROSS TUBMAN, WITNESSES TO CIVIL RIGHTS FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS AND WOMEN

THE FEAST OF SAINTS FLAVIAN II OF ANTIOCH AND ELIAS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCHS

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Some Related Posts:

Crystal, Pat and Leslie

Crystal and Leslie

Leslie

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Posted July 20, 2014 by neatnik2009 in Luke 6

Tagged with

Devious Hearts and the Unpardonable Sin   1 comment

Appalachian Trail

Above:  The Appalachian Trail

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2011631216/)

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-13022

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The Collect:

O God, we thank you for your Son,

who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world.

Humble us by his example,

point us to the path of obedience,

and give us strength to follow your commands,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 17:5-18

Psalm 17

Matthew 12:22-32

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Keep me as the apple of your eye;

hide me under the shadow of your wings,

From the wicked who assault me,

from my enemies who surround me to take away my life….

Arise, Lord; confront them and cast them down;

deliver me from the wicked by your sword.

–Psalm 17:8-9, 13, Common Worship (2000)

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That Psalmist and the prophet Jeremiah shared the sentiment.

Let my persecutors be shamed,

And let not me be shamed;

Let them be dismayed,

And let not me be dismayed.

Bring on them the day of disaster,

And shatter them with double destruction.

–Jeremiah 17:18, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

That reminds me of some of my prayers at severe periods of my life.  I am glad to report truthfully that I never arrived at the spiritual place of Psalm 137:

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,

happy the one who repays you

for all you have done to us;

Who takes your little ones,

and dashes them against the rock.

–Verses 8 and 9, Common Worship (2000)

To be fair, some people were trying to kill Jeremiah.  And, regarding Psalm 137, vengeance is an emotion common to oppressed people.  Revenge is a seductive spiritual toxin.

Today we have readings about enemies and rejection.  YHWH, speaking in Jeremiah 17:11 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures), says:

Most devious is the heart;

It is perverse–who can fathom it?

I the LORD probe the heat,

Search the mind–

To repay every man according to his ways,

With the proper fruit of his deeds.

This brings me to the lesson from Matthew.  In the Hellenistic world the widespread assumption regarding the causation of a variety of disorders and diseases was demonic possession.  Thus, most (if not all) of the demoniacs in the New Testament actually had conditions with down-to-earth causes–biological or just too much stress.  Brain science, which tells us much in 2014, did not exist two thousand years ago.  In fact, modern science is only about five hundred years old.  Nobody should, therefore, expect the Bible to function as a scientific text or a psychological or medical diagnostic manual.  Anyone who does is pursuing a fool’s errand.

Jesus, in his cultural context, conducted what people called exorcisms of “evil spirits” which had caused everything from epilepsy to multiple personalities.  In his cultural context this demonstrated power over evil itself.  Jesus, in his cultural context, faced opposition from people as being of divine origin.  Therefore they preferred to say (if not believe wholeheartedly) that he cast out demons by the power of Satan–a statement ridiculous inside its cultural context.  Their sin–blasphemy against the Holy Spirit–was being unable to tell the difference between good and evil when good stood in front of them and performed great and mighty acts.  Theirs was a voluntary spiritual blindness.

Why did they do it?  Perhaps they were so attached to their social status and religious traditions that admitting that which was manifest in their presence was the genuine article proved threatening.  At stake were matters of identity and livelihood, after all, and Jesus, by his mere presence, called those into question.  His words and deeds constituted even more of a threat.  So these Pharisaic opponents in the reading from Matthew decided to pursue an illogical and spiritually dangerous course.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit–a sin which requires much effort to commit–is the unpardonable sin because it is deliberate spiritual blindness.  For most of us all our sins flow from either ignorance or weakness.  We either do not know that what we do or do not do is wrong (perhaps due to cultural programming) or, like St. Paul the Apostle, we know what is right yet discover that we are too weak to do it.  In these cases we are either blind spiritually because of what others have taught us or we have clear vision of the moral variety.  But to see clearly in the moral sense, recognize intellectually that good is present, and choose to call it evil because that is the convenient course of action is worse.  One might even lie to oneself and persuade oneself that good is evil.  And how is one supposed to follow God then?

Following God can prove difficult under the best of circumstances.  It is possible by grace, however.  May each of us be willing to cooperate with God in the path God has established.  When God points to an area of spiritual blindness, may we accept the correction.  Such a walk with God will entail times of discomfort, but that is part of the growth process.  Our identity ought to be in God.  Our chief end, the Westminster Catechisms tell us correctly, is to enjoy and glorify God forever.  The specifics of pursuing that goal properly will vary from person to person.  May we support each other in our journeys.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 20, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL HANSON COX, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND ABOLITIONIST; AND HIS SON, ARTHUR CLEVELAND COXE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WESTERN NEW YORK, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANSEGIUS OF FONTANELLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH CADY STANTON, AMELIA BLOOMER, SOJOURNER TRUTH, AND HARRIET ROSS TUBMAN, WITNESSES TO CIVIL RIGHTS FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS AND WOMEN

THE FEAST OF SAINTS FLAVIAN II OF ANTIOCH AND ELIAS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCHS

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/devotion-for-wednesday-after-proper-17-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Two Kingdoms   1 comment

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

Above:  David Entrusts a Letter to Uriah

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, we thank you for your Son,

who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world.

Humble us by his example,

point us to the path of obedience,

and give us strength to follow your commands,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Samuel 11:2-26 (Monday)

2 Samuel 11:27b-12:15 (Tuesday)

Psalm 17 (Both Days)

Revelation 3:1-6 (Monday)

Revelation 3:7-13 (Tuesday)

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Hear my just cause, O Lord; consider my complaint;

listen to my prayer, which comes not from lying lips.

Let my vindication come forth from your presence;

let your eyes behold what is right.

Weigh my heart, examine me by night,

refine me, and you will find no impurity in me.

My mouth does not trespass for earthly rewards;

I have heeded the words of your lips.

My footsteps hold fast in the ways of your commandments;

my feet have not stumbled in your paths.

–Psalm 17:1-5, Common Worship (2000)

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Those words, in the context of the story of David and Bathsheba, have the hollow ring of irony.  They also belie the reputation of the Church at Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) and fit the Church at Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13).  With that introduction I announce that this post focuses on the theme of two kingdoms–one of human origin and exploitative, the other of divine origin and just.  The Book of Revelation/Apocalypse of John is about, among other topics, God destroying the corrupt and exploitative status quo ante then establishing in its fullness the Kingdom of God.

Charles Harold (C. H.) Dodd wrote in his short book, The Founder of Christianity (1970), that, since God exists beyond time, the Kingdom of God is really never closer to or further away from us at any point in time than another.  He wrote, however, that, since we mere mortals experience time as we do, the Kingdom of God seems closer or further away at some times than at others.  And, he continued, certain events make the Kingdom of God more apparent than it was previously.  Among these was the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as Jesus of Nazareth.

Other reading I have done has brought to my attention the concept of the Kingdom of God as being apparent in the person of Jesus and in his ministry yet not unveiled fully yet.  The Kingdom of God, it seems, has been unveiling for a long time, at least from a human perspective.

The Kingdom of God functions in the New Testament as, among other things, a scathing critique of the Roman Empire.  The Emperor Augustus, who had restored order out of the chaos of the demise of the Roman Republic, was, according to propaganda, the savior of the (Roman) world.  Coinage proclaimed him the “Son of God” (in Latin, of course).  Therefore claims that Jesus was the “Son of God” and the savior of the world attracted official Roman attention of the dangerous variety.  The foundations of the Roman Empire included violence, economic exploitation, and slavery.  In contrast, the foundations of the Kingdom of God are quite unlike those of the Roman Empire or any other tyrannical state of the past, present, or future.

This brings me to the Kingdom of Israel.  One does well to reread 1 Samuel 8:10-18, the text of which from the Revised English Bible (1989) follows:

Samuel reported to the people who were asking him for a king all that the LORD had said to him.  “This will be the sort of king who will rule over you,” he said.  “He will take your sons and make them serve in his chariots and with his cavalry, and they will run before his chariot.  Some he will appoint officers over units of a thousand and units of fifty.  Others will plough his fields and reap his harvest; others again will make weapons of war and equipment for chariots.  He will take your daughters for perfumers, cooks, and bakers.  He will seize the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his courtiers.  He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage to give to his eunuchs and courtiers.  Your slaves, both men and women, and the best of your cattle and your donkeys he will take for his own use.  He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.  There will come a day when you will cry out against the king whom you have chosen; but the LORD will not answer you on that day.”

And he will have the power to take your wives and arrange for you to die merely because you have become inconvenient.

God is a much better king.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 20, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL HANSON COX, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND ABOLITIONIST; AND HIS SON, ARTHUR CLEVELAND COXE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WESTERN NEW YORK, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANSEGIUS OF FONTANELLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH CADY STANTON, AMELIA BLOOMER, SOJOURNER TRUTH, AND HARRIET ROSS TUBMAN, WITNESSES TO CIVIL RIGHTS FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS AND WOMEN

THE FEAST OF SAINTS FLAVIAN II OF ANTIOCH AND ELIAS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCHS

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-proper-17-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Christian Liberty to Love Our Neighbors   3 comments

05791v

Above:  Civil Rights Memorial, Montgomery, Alabama

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-05791

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The Collect:

O God, we thank you for your Son,

who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world.

Humble us by his example,

point us to the path of obedience,

and give us strength to follow your commands,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 14:13-18 (Thursday)

Jeremiah 15:1-9 (Friday)

Jeremiah 15:10-14 (Saturday)

Psalm 26:1-8 (All Days)

Ephesians 5:1-6 (Thursday)

2 Thessalonians 2:7-12 (Friday)

Matthew 8:14-17 (Saturday)

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I will wash my hands in innocence, O Lord,

that I may go about your altar,

To make heard the voice of thanksgiving

and tell of all your wonderful deeds.

Lord, I love the house of your habitation

and the place where your glory abides.

–Psalm 26:6-8, Common Worship (2000)

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Christian liberty is the freedom to follow Christ without the shackles of legalism.  All the Law of Moses and the Prophets point to the love of God and one’s fellow human beings, our Lord and Savior said.  Rabbi Hillel, dead for about two decades at the time, would have continued that teaching with

Everything else is commentary.  Go and learn it.

Many of those laws contained concrete examples of timeless principles.  A host of these examples ceased to apply to daily lives for the majority of people a long time ago, so the avoidance of legalism and the embrace of serious study of the Law of Moses in historical and cultural contexts behooves one.  St. Paul the Apostle, always a Jew, resisted legalism regarding male circumcision. In my time I hear certain Protestants, who make a point of Christian liberty from the Law of Moses most of the time, invoke that code selectively for their own purposes.  I am still waiting for them to be consistent –to recognize the hypocrisy of such an approach, and to cease from quoting the Law of Moses regarding issues such as homosexuality while ignoring its implications for wearing polyester.  I will wait for a long time, I suppose.

My first thought after finishing the readings from Jeremiah was, “God was mad!”  At least that was the impression which the prophet and his scribe, Baruch, who actually wrote the book, left us.  In that narrative the people (note the plural form, O reader) had abandoned God and refused repeatedly to repent–to change their minds and to turn around.  Destruction would be their lot and only a small remnant would survive, the text said.  Not keeping the Law of Moses was the offense in that case.

The crux of the issue I address in this post is how to follow God without falling into legalism.  Whether one wears a polyester garment does not matter morally, but how one treats others does.  The Law of Moses, when not condemning people to death for a host of offenses from working on the Sabbath to engaging in premarital sexual relations to insulting one’s parents (the latter being a crucial point the Parable of the Prodigal Son/Elder Brother/Father), drives home in a plethora of concrete examples the principles of interdependence, mutual responsibility, and complete dependence on God.  These belie and condemn much of modern economic theory and many corporate policies, do they not?  Many business practices exist to hold certain people back from advancement, to keep them in their “places.”  I, without becoming lost in legalistic details, note these underlying principles and recognize them as being of God.  There is a project worth undertaking in the name and love of God.  The working conditions of those who, for example, manufacture and sell our polyester garments are part of a legitimate social concern.

Abstract standards of morality do not move me, except occasionally to frustration.  Our Lord and Savior gave us a concrete standard of morality–how our actions and inactions affect others.  This is a paraphrase of the rule to love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself.  I made this argument in a long and thoroughly documented paper I published online.  In that case I focused on the traditional Southern Presbyterian rule of the Spirituality of the Church, the idea that certain issues are political,  not theological, so the denomination should avoid “political” entanglements.  In 1861 the founders of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America (the Presbyterian Church in the United States from 1865 to 1983) invoked the Spirituality of the Church to avoid condemning slavery, an institution they defended while quoting the Bible.  By the 1950s the leadership of the PCUS had liberalized to the point of endorsing civil rights for African Americans, a fact which vexed the openly segregationist part of the Church’s right wing.  From that corner of the denomination sprang the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in 1973.  This fact has proven embarrassing to many members of the PCA over the years, as it should.  The PCA, to its credit, has issued a pastoral letter condemning racism.  On the other hand, it did so without acknowledging the racist content in the documents of the committee which formed the denomination.

May we, invoking our Christian liberty, seek to love all the neighbors possible as we love ourselves.  We can succeed only by grace, but our willingness constitutes a vital part of the effort.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 19, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT POEMAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINTS JOHN THE DWARF AND ARSENIUS THE GREAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

THE FEAST OF SAINT AMBROSE AUTPERT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN PLESSINGTON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACRINA THE YOUNGER, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-17-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Kindness, Love, and Gratitude   1 comment

Anointing of Jesus--Pasolini

Above:  The Anointing of Jesus, from The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

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The Collect:

O God, with all your faithful followers in every age, we praise you, the rock of our life.

Be our strong foundation and form us into the body of your Son,

that we may gladly minister to all the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 45

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 7:3-13 (Monday)

Deuteronomy 32:18-20, 28-39 (Tuesday)

Isaiah 28:14-22 (Wednesday)

Psalm 18:1-3, 20-32 (All Days)

Romans 2:1-11 (Monday)

Romans 11:33-36 (Tuesday)

Matthew 26:6-13 (Wednesday)

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I love you, O Lord my strength.

The Lord is my crag, my fortress and my deliverer,

My God, the rock in whom I take refuge,

my shield, the horn of my salvation and my stronghold.

I cried to the Lord in my anguish

and I was saved from my enemies.

–Psalm 18:1-3, Common Worship (2000)

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Each of the four canonical Gospels contains an account of a woman anointing Jesus–Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50, and John 12:1-8.  The versions are sufficiently similar to indicate that they are variations on the same event yet different enough to disagree on certain details, such as chronology, at whose house the anointing happened, which part of his body the woman anointed, and the woman’s background.  These factors tell me that something occurred, but the divergence among the written accounts means that I have no way of knowing exactly what transpired in objective reality.  None of that changes one iota of the spiritual value of the stories, however.

In the Matthew account our Lord and Savior, about to die, is a the home of one Simon the leper in Bethany.  We know nothing about the woman’s background, not even her name.  In the Gospel of Luke she is an unnamed and repentant sinner, in the Gospel of John she is St. Mary of Bethany, and in the Gospel of Mark she is also an unnamed woman of whose background we know nothing.  The importance of her–whoever she was–act was that unselfish love and gratitude motivated it.  This was an extravagant and beautiful deed.  Yes, the poor will always be with us; that is an unfortunate reality.  May, through the creation of more opportunities for advancement, there be as little poverty as possible.  But, as we strive for that goal, may we never fail to recognize and give proper attention to lavish kindness, love, and gratitude.

The woman (whoever she was) had a good attitude and a pure motivation.  Most of the assigned readings for these days, however, speak of people who did not.  Their memorials were wastelands and periods of exile.  The woman’s legacy is an honored one, however.  Her act, as extravagant as it was, was as nothing compared to what God has done, is doing, and will do for all of us.  Even the most lavish act of gratitude–beautiful, to be sure, is inadequate, but God accepts it graciously.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 19, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT POEMAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINTS JOHN THE DWARF AND ARSENIUS THE GREAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

THE FEAST OF SAINT AMBROSE AUTPERT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN PLESSINGTON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACRINA THE YOUNGER, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-16-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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