Humility Before God   1 comment

house-of-naaman-damascus

Above:  House of Naaman, Damascus, 1900-1920

Image Source = Library of Congress

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The Collect:

O God, our teacher and guide,

you draw us to yourself and welcome us as beloved children.

Help us to lay aside all envy and selfish ambition,

that we may walk in your ways of wisdom and understanding

as servants of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Kings 5:1-14 (Monday)

2 Kings 11:21-12:16 (Tuesday)

Psalm 139:1-18 (Both Days)

James 4:8-17 (Monday)

James 5:1-6 (Tuesday)

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LORD, you have searched me out and known me;

you know my sitting down and my rising up;

you discern my thoughts from afar.

–Psalm 139:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The Temple at Jerusalem was approximately 140 years old.  The Ark of the Covenant was there.  Repairing the structure of the Temple, which, like all buildings, required maintenance, should have been a priority long before King Jehoash made it one.  The lack of upkeep indicated an improper attitude toward God.

The proper attitude toward God includes humility.  God is God; none of us is God.  We depend entirely upon God (and rely upon each other), so any thought to the contrary is mistaken.  Our interdependence and mutual responsibility (to and for each other) leaves no room for sins such as oppression, exploitation, and gossiping.  Our total dependence on God leaves no room for excessive pride.

Naaman learned humility and monotheism.  Unfortunately, the narrative ended with the beginning of his journey back home.  I wonder how the experience at the River Jordan changed him and how that altered reality became manifest in his work and daily life.  I also wonder if that led to any negative consequences for him.

Martin Luther referred to James as an “epistle of straw.”  The letter’s emphasis on works (including justification by them) offended the reformer, who was reacting, not responding, to certain excesses and abuses of the Roman Catholic Church.  The epistle’s emphasis on works was–and remains–necessary, however.  The book’s condemnations of exploitation and hypocrisy have called proper attention to injustices and other sins for millennia.

I am not a wealthy landowner exploiting impoverished workers (James 5:1-6), but part of these days’ composite reading from the epistle speaks to me.  The condemnation of judging others (4:1-11) hits close to home.  My estimate is that judging others is the sin I commit most often.  If I am mistaken, judging others is one of the sins I commit most frequently.  I know better, of course, but like St. Paul the Apostle, I know well the struggle with sin and my total dependence upon God.  Knowing that one has a problem is the first step in the process of resolving it.

Caution against moral perfectionism is in order.  Public statements by relatives of victims of the White supremacist gunman who killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, South Carolina, have been impressive.  The capacity for forgiveness has come quickly to some.  I rejoice that divine grace is so richly evident in their lives.  For some of us (including the author), however, the capacity to forgive those who have committed lesser offenses has arrived later rather than sooner.  For others it remains in transit.  In any circumstance may it arrive in God’s time.  May the rest of us refrain from judging those struggling with that (and other) issues.

The Didache, an essential Christian text from the second century of the Common Era, opens with an explanation of the Way of Life (filling a page and a half in my copy) and the Way of Death (just one paragraph–about one-third of a page).  The accent on the positive aspect of morality is laudable.  The section on the two Ways ends with two sentences:

Take care that nobody tempts you away from the path of this Teaching, for such a man’s tuition can have nothing to do with God.  If you can shoulder the Lord’s yoke in its entirety, then you will be perfect; but if that is too much for you, do as much as you can.

Early Christian Writings:  The Apostolic Fathers (Penguin Books, 1987), p. 193

We, to succeed, even partially, depend on grace.  Even so, I am still trying to do as much as I can, to borrow language from the Didache, for human efforts are not worthless.  I am imperfect; there is much room for improvement.  Much has improved already, by grace.  The potential for spiritual growth excites me.  The only justifiable boast will be in God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 30, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN OLAF WALLIN, ARCHBISHOP OF UPPSALA AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR JAMES MOORE, UNITED METHODIST BISHOP IN GEORGIA

THE FEAST OF HEINRICH LONAS, GERMAN MORAVIAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND LITURGIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-proper-20-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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  1. Pingback: Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 20, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary) | ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS

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