Archive for July 2015

Of Their Time   4 comments

Hymnal 1911-1917

Above:  The Title Page of the Presbyterian Hymnal (1911) with the Supplement of 1917

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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World War I (1914-1918) was a devastating conflict which changed the map of the world.  Many of the problems of today have much to do with that war and the events of the years immediately following it.  Europeans promised the same territory to both Jews and Palestinians, created Iraq (where the British military became bogged down in an insurgency for years), broke up empires, and created new countries, some of which (Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia) which have ceased to exist.  U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (in office 1913-1921) oversold the conflict as a war to make the world safe for democracy.  Meanwhile, back home in the United States, which entered the war in 1917, early in Wilson’s second term, which he won on the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War,” xenophobia, nativism, and irrationality reigned.  The city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, banned performances of the music of Ludwig von Beethoven, an anti-imperialist who died in 1827.  Had the great composer been alive in 1917 and 1918, he would have opposed the policies of Kaiser Wilhelm II.  But why let reason stand between one and an irrational fear?  Mobs burned books in the German language or about Germany, vandalized buildings belonging to congregations where worship was not in English, dachshunds became liberty hounds, the state of Iowa outlawed public gatherings where the spoken language was not English (although many sheriffs in the state permitted Danish Lutheran congregations to worship in Danish), et cetera.  Opposing state-sponsored violence became a crime, one for which many pacifists went to prison and conscientious objectors suffered.  Really, were the Amish, Mennonites, and Quakers threats to national security?  Were the Dutch Reformed (of the Christian Reformed Church in North America in particular) and the Lutherans (especially those in the denominations we call The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod these days) worshiping in other tongues that threatening?  In November 1918, at the organizing convention of the newly merged United Lutheran Church in America (1918-1962), derived from German immigrant stock in North America since the 1700s, delegates felt the need to demonstrate their patriotism by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America,” due to lingering suspicions related to Germany, German-Americans, and the war.

The study of the past tells me that the war did not live up to its billing, that wartime hysteria and intolerance turned into widespread disillusionment, and that the psychological scars of the “Great War” or the “World War,” as people called it before World War II, influenced national decision-making (often for the worse) leading up to World War II.  Accounts of the “Lost Generation” and the false sense of security the Maginot Line engendered testify to the aftershocks of World War I.

These and other facts influence how I read certain texts from World War I and the time immediately following it.  How can they not, given my temporal relationship to that conflict?

During that war and immediately afterward some denominations amended their recent official hymnals.  The Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. added the “Supplement of 1917” to its Hymnal of 1911.  This supplement consisted of three patriotic hymns:  “God of Our Fathers, Known of Old,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  The National Council of Congregational Churches of the United States added three hymns to The Pilgrim Hymnal (1912) after the war.  Hymns #542a-c were, respectively, “O Land of Lands, My Fatherland,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and “America, America, The Shouts of War Shall Cease.”  “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was already present.

Two of those texts intrigue me.  The first is “O Land of Lands, My Fatherland.”  The author was the Reverend Washington Gladden (February 11, 1836-July 2, 1918), whose feast day in The Episcopal Church is July 2.  Gladden, a proponent of the Social Gospel, opposed corruption in government, favored civil rights for African Americans, and supported the labor movement.  He wrote many poems (including hymns), the most famous of which might be “O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee.”  In 1918 he composed the following text:

O Land of lands, my Fatherland, the beautiful, the free,

All lands and shores to freedom dear and ever dear to thee;

All sons of Freedom hail thy name, and wait thy word of might,

While round the world the lists are joined for liberty and light.

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Hail, sons of France, old comrades dear! Hail Britons brave and true!

Hail Belgian martyrs ringed with flame! Slavs fired with visions new!

Italian lovers mailed with light! Dark brothers from Japan!

From East to West all lands are kin who live for God and man.

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Here endeth war!  Our bands are sworn! Now dawns the better hour

When lust of blood shall cease to rule, when Peace shall come with power;

We front the fiend that rends our race and fills our hearts with gloom;

We break his scepter, spurn his crown, and nail him in his tomb.

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Now, hands all round, our troth we plight to rid the world of lies,

To fill all hearts with truth and trust and willing sacrifice;

To free all lands from hate and spite and fear from strand to strand;

To make all nations neighbors and the world one Fatherland!

The second text was, as the hymnal labeled it, “A National Hymn of Victory Inscribed to the Builders of the ‘League of Nations.'”  The author was the Reverend Allen Eastman Cross (December 30, 1864-April 23, 1942), a Congregationalist minister from Manchester, New Hampshire.

America, America!

The shouts of war shall cease;

The Glory dawns! the Day is come

Of Victory and Peace!

And now upon a larger plan

We’ll build the common good,

The temple of the Love of Man,

The House of Brotherhood!

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What though its stones were laid in tears,

Its pillars red with wrong,

Its walls shall rise through patient years

To soaring spires of song!

For on this House shall Faith attend,

With Joy on airy wing,

And flaming loyalty ascend

To God, the only King!

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America, America,

Ring out the glad refrain!

Salute the Flag–salute the dead

That have not died in vain!

O Glory! Glory to thy plan

To build the common good,

The temple of the Rights of Man,

The House of Brotherhood!

To mock the optimism and idealism of the texts is easy to do, but I propose that to do so is in error.  No, these hymns did not predict the future accurately.  Yes, the brutality of history since World War I has belied these texts’ highest sentiments, but the dream those hymns represent has never ceased to be a noble one.  The texts are of their time in two senses:  certain references to nations and the level of optimism regarding the future.  Without a goal to which to aspire, however, how are we humans supposed to improve the world?

I value precision in language, so I mark the difference between the Social Gospel and Neo-Orthodoxy.  The former is more optimistic regarding human potential for effecting goodness than is the latter.  Neo-Orthodoxy, with its sober understanding of human nature, incorporates the best of the Social Gospel and emphasizes the human obligation to reform society and its structures for the better while stating that only God can usher in the Kingdom of God.  I read these quoted hymns through my lens of Neo-Orthodoxy and recognize a combination of naiveté and realism as I mourn the fact of those dashed hopes.  May nobody permit pessimism to prevent one from doing what one can to leave the world (or one’s corner of it) better than one found it.  God can save the world, but we can improve it.  We can love our neighbors as we love ourselves and seek to reform unjust social systems and institutions.  We have a moral imperative to do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 26, 2015 COMMON ERA

PROPER 12:  THE NINTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANNE AND JOACHIM, PARENTS OF SAINT MARY OF NAZARETH

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SOURCES IN PRINT

I have provided hyperlinks to some sources.  My other sources were:

Bachmann, E. Theodore, with Mercia Brenne Bachmann.  The United Lutheran Church in America, 1918-1962.  Edited by Paul Rorem.  Minneapolis, MN:  Fortress Press, 1997.

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

Mortenen, Enok.  The Danish Lutheran Church in America:  The History and Heritage of the American Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Philadelphia, PA:  Board of Publication, Lutheran Church in America, 1967.

The Hymnal Published in 1895 and Revised in 1911 by Authority of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America; with the Supplement of 1917.  Philadelphia, PA:  The Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work.

The Pilgrim Hymnal with Responsive Readings and Other Aids to Worship.  Boston, MA:  The Pilgrim Press, 1912.  Amended and reprinted, 1919.

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Leaving the World Better Than We Found It   1 comment

The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD -- a painting by David Roberts (1796-1849).

The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD —
a painting by David Roberts (1796-1849).

Above: The Destruction of Jerusalem, by David Roberts

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.

By your merciful protection alert us to the threatening dangers of our sins,

and redeem us for your life of justice,

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 18

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The Assigned Readings:

Nehemiah 9:6-15 (Thursday)

Nehemiah 9:16-25 (Friday)

Nehemiah 9:26-31 (Saturday)

Psalm 76 (All Days)

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (Thursday)

1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 (Friday)

Luke 21:20-24 (Saturday)

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For all those who hope in you shall not be ashamed:

but only those who wantonly break faith.

–Psalm 25:2, A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)

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One message from the Hebrew Bible is that God liberated the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and gave them orders to live in a just society.  Yet, as prophets attested, rebellion against God became the norm, not the exception to the rule.  Consequences ensued and God showed both judgment and mercy to the Hebrews.

The Jews of Nehemiah 9 were returned exiles living in a province (a satrapy, technically) of the Persian Empire.  They were home, but circumstances did not live up to high expectations and they lived in a foreign empire.  Living under occupation remained the reality of Jews in Judea for most of the time during the following centuries.  In the time of Jesus of Nazareth the occupying power was the Roman Empire, against whom many Jews fought a war from 66 to 73 C.E.  The writing of the four canonical Gospels occurred in the context of the First Jewish War, shaping the telling of stories of Jesus.  Certainly that context influenced the understanding of Luke 21:20-24.  Jesus might have said something similar to those words, but the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. by Roman forces made that text poignant after the fact.

In 1 Thessalonians, which St. Paul the Apostle probably dictated circa 50 C.E., about four decades prior to the composition of the Gospel of Luke, apocalyptic expectations were alive and well.  Some members of that community either used the hope that Jesus would return quite soon as a reason or an excuse to refrain from good works and necessary, even mundane tasks.  The Apostle’s sage advice was to keep working.  That remains wise counsel, for Jesus has yet to return as of the writing of this sentence, and the necessities of life continue to exist.  Waiting for God to act is a poor excuse not to work for justice and to attempt to leave one’s corner of the world better than one found it.  The world might not resemble the best hopes for it, but that fact is a reason to continue working, not to become lazy or to give into apathy or hopelessness.  God will save the world, but we have a moral imperative to leave it better than we found it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GEORG NEUMARK, GERMAN LUTHERAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN HINES, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-the-first-sunday-of-advent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Kingdom of the World   1 comment

Christ Pantocrator

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God,

you anointed your beloved Son to be priest and sovereign forever.

Grant that all the people of the earth,

now divided by the power of sin,

may be united by the glorious and gentle rule of Jesus Christ,

our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53

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The Assigned Readings:

Daniel 7:19-27 (Monday)

Ezekiel 29:1-12 (Tuesday)

Ezekiel 30:20-26 (Wednesday)

Psalm 76 (All Days)

Revelation 11:1-14 (Monday)

Revelation 11:15-19 (Tuesday)

John 16:25-33 (Wednesday)

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You gave sentence from heaven:

the earth in terror was still,

when God arose to give judgment:

to save all that are oppressed upon earth.

–Psalm 76:8-9, A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)

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The readings from Daniel and Ezekiel condemn arrogant monarchs–Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Seleucid Empire and a Pharaoh of Egypt who claimed the Nile River as his own.  People might seem to be in charge, but God is still sovereign, the lessons remind us.  In Revelation 11 God vindicates the prophetic witness of the Church.  Earthly rulers still have the ability of earthly rulers to have faithful people killed, but God vindicates the martyrs.  And, in John 16, Jesus, about to endure torture and execution, tells his twelve Apostles,

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace.  In the world you face persecution.  But take courage; I have conquered the world!

–Verse 33, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

In Revelation 11, prior to divine victory over forces of evil, loud voices in Heaven sing,

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord

and of his Messiah,

and he will reign forever and ever.

–Verse 15, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The two passages I have quoted might seem counterintuitive.  How could Jesus have conquered the world before his crucifixion by forces of the Roman Empire?  And, if forces of evil remain powerful, how could the final coming of the Kingdom of God in its fullness have occurred?  The best answer I can muster is to repeat the theme of Christ the King Sunday:   God remains sovereign, despite all appearances to the contrary.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GEORG NEUMARK, GERMAN LUTHERAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN HINES, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-29-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Dashed Hopes and the Faithfulness of God   1 comment

Seleucid Empire

Above:  Map of the Seleucid Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God,

you anointed your beloved Son to be priest and sovereign forever.

Grant that all the people of the earth,

now divided by the power of sin,

may be united by the glorious and gentle rule of Jesus Christ,

our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53

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The Assigned Readings:

Daniel 7:1-8, 15-18

Psalm 93

John 3:31-36

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You, O LORD, are Sovereign;

you have put on splendid apparel;

you, O LORD, have put on your apparel

and girded yourself with strength.

You have made the whole world so sure

that it cannot be moved;

ever since the world began, your throne has been established;

you are from everlasting.

The waters have lifted up, O LORD,

the waters have lifted up their voice;

the waters have lifted up their pounding waves.

Mightier than the sound of many waters,

mightier than the breakers of the sea,

mightier is the LORD who dwells on high.

Your testimonies are very sure,

and holiness adorns your house, O LORD,

forever and forevermore.

–Psalm 93, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Sometimes our expectations exceed reality as events unfold.

The expectations in Daniel 7:1-8 and 15-18 was that, after the fall of the Seleucid Empire (extant 312-64 B.C.E.),

holy ones of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess the kingdom forever–forever and ever.

–Daniel 7:18, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The Seleucid Empire fell for several reasons, including weak leadership, pressures from the Armenians, and the expansion of the Roman Republic, soon to become the Roman Empire.  The fully realized Kingdom of God on Earth did not come to pass in 64 B.C.E. or at any time between then and the day I am writing these words.

St. John the Baptist had apocalyptic expectations regarding Jesus (Luke 3).  The clearly labeled voice of the forerunner said in John 3:30 (The New Revised Standard Version, 1989),

He must increase, but I must decrease.

But who is speaking in John 3:31-36?  My reading has revealed three possibilities:

  1. St. John the Baptist, for the text indicates no change of speaker;
  2. Jesus, perhaps cut and pasted from the conversation with Nicodemus earlier in the chapter; or
  3. the author of the Fourth Gospel, making one of his occasional explanatory comments to the readers.

Either way, the pericope’s comment about the fidelity of God is what interest me.  Jesus did not fulfill the apocalyptic expectations of St. John the Baptist, but that fact did nothing to belie the fidelity of God.  The apocalyptic expectations of Daniel 7:1-8 and 15-18 proved baseless, but that fact has not disproved the fidelity of God.  Sometimes we human beings hope for events which never happen, at least as we anticipate.  Some of these dashed expectations have passed into the canon of scripture.  Nevertheless, the hope that one day God will abolish the world order built on violence and artificial scarcity and replace it with justice remains a valid promise.  God will keep it faithfully in divine time, if not according to human expectations.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GEORG NEUMARK, GERMAN LUTHERAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN HINES, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/devotion-for-saturday-before-proper-29-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Dawning Kingdom of God   1 comment

Christ in Majesty Icon

Above:  Christ in Majesty

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God,

you anointed your beloved Son to be priest and sovereign forever.

Grant that all the people of the earth,

now divided by the power of sin,

may be united by the glorious and gentle rule of Jesus Christ,

our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 28:1-10 (Thursday)

Ezekiel 28:20-26 (Friday)

Psalm 93 (Both Days)

Acts 7:54-8:1a (Thursday)

1 Corinthians 15:20-28 (Friday)

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You, O LORD, are Sovereign;

you have put on splendid apparel;

you, O LORD, have put on your apparel

and girded yourself with strength.

You have made the whole world so sure

that it cannot be moved;

ever since the world began, your throne has been established;

you are from everlasting.

The waters have lifted up, O LORD,

the waters have lifted up their voice;

the waters have lifted up their pounding waves.

Mightier than the sound of many waters,

mightier than the breakers of the sea,

mightier is the LORD who dwells on high.

Your testimonies are very sure,

and holiness adorns your house, O LORD,

forever and forevermore.

–Psalm 93, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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The journey toward Christ the King Sunday (evident in the selection of the Psalm) continues.  The sovereignty of God is a major theme in Ezekiel 28, where we read announcements that the prideful King of Tyre will die and that the hostile countries around Judah will fall.  The restoration of Judah will follow, thus people will know that Yahweh is the God of the Hebrews.

Death is a punishment in Ezekiel 28 and the penalty for St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr and one of the first Christian deacons.  In Acts 7-8, where we read of the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the accusation was blasphemy, although anger and defensiveness were the actual causes.  Whatever those who executed the saint thought regarding theology, their violence in the name of God belied their protests of righteousness.  St. Stephen was forgiving, however.  One will know a tree by its fruits.

Death is the last enemy to face defeat in 1 Corinthians 15.  The agent of victory over death is the crucified and resurrected Christ.  As verses 17-19 say,

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those who have died in Christ have perished.  If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The Pauline case continues the assertion that God has put everything under subjection to Christ, in God.

The theme of Christ the King Sunday is that, despite appearances to the contrary, God is in charge.  Pope Pius XI created the feast in the 1920s, when dictators dominated Europe and fascism was on the rise.  The message of Christ the King Sunday remains relevant today, for human nature and divine faithfulness are constants.  The Kingdom of God has been present among us for a long time, for it was “at hand” nearly 2000 years ago, when Jesus of Nazareth walked the face of the Earth.  Alas, the Kingdom of God has not become fully realized, for it is simultaneously present and en route.  Human cruelty constitutes evidence of the partial realization of the Kingdom of God, so we hope and pray for the completion of the promise.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GEORG NEUMARK, GERMAN LUTHERAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN HINES, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-proper-29-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Faithfulness and Faithlessness, Part II   1 comment

Destroy This Mad Brute

Above:  A U.S. Anti-German Propaganda Poster from World War I

Image in the Public Domain

Faithfulness and Faithlessness, Part II

NOVEMBER 18, 2015

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The Collect:

Almighty God, your sovereign purpose bring salvation to birth.

Give us faith amid the tumults of this world,

trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53

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The Assigned Readings:

Zechariah 12:1-13:1

Psalm 13

Mark 13:9-23

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How long, O LORD?

Will you forget me forever?

how long will you hide your face from me?

How long shall I have perplexity of mind,

and grief in my heart, day after day?

how long shall my enemy triumph over me?

Look upon me and answer me, O LORD my God;

give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death;

lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed,”

and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.

But I trust in your mercy;

my heart is joyful because of your saving help.

I will sing to you, O LORD,

for you have dealt with me richly;

I will praise the name of the Lord Most High.

–Psalm 13, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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The text of Mark 13:9-13 describes current events in much of the world.  Fortunately, that statement does not apply to my nation-state, the United States of America, where we have religious toleration.  That is an alien concept in much of the world, however.  In any case, the end of the pericope provides a segue to the other reading.

But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

–Mark 13:23b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Zechariah 12:1-13:1 is a prediction of the end times.  Tiny Judah will by the power and grace of God, find not only restoration but victory over its enemies, who will suffer.  The new, restored society will mourn over

those who are slain, wailing over them as a favorite son and showing bitter grief as over a first-born.

–Verse 10b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Proposals regarding the identity of “those who are slain” are numerous.  The slain might have come from the Gentile nations, all but annihilated in verse 9.  Mourning for one’s defeated foes seems like a well-developed spiritual virtue, does it not?  The Hebrew text is ambiguous regarding the identity of the mourned slain, so another option might be correct.  For example, maybe the lamented slain are messengers of God whom authorities persecuted and populations disregarded.  That interpretation meshes well with the reading from Mark 13.  Mourning the sins of one’s society is one step toward the goal of addressing societal ills and avoiding similar errors in the present day and the future, after all.

The vagueness of the reference to the mourned slain invites readers to interact with and ponder that text.  Perhaps more than one interpretation is correct.  One unambiguous aspect, however, is grief following the act of violence.  Whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves.  Those who commit violence are therefore victims of it.  Violence is necessary sometimes, unfortunately.  It can, however, be far less commonplace than it is.  Societies will be much better off when they grieve, not celebrate, violence (even necessary violence), and use it only as the last resort.  The same rule applies to individuals and communities.

One way governments persuade their citizens to fight wars is to dehumanize the enemies.  For example, Germans became “Huns” during World War I and Japanese became “Japs” during World War II.  Wartime propaganda in the United States depicted Germans as barely human and sometimes as beasts in 1917 and 1918.  During World War II American propaganda depicted Japanese in racially denigrating imagery and invited patriotic citizens to “slap a Jap.”  Likewise, Japanese propaganda denigrated Westerners in racial terms also.  Yet everybody involved was quite human, and the populations were not their governments.  As I write this sentence in 2015, Germany and Japan have long been allies of the United States.  We humans have no difficulty accepting the fact that our friends and allies are human, do we?

Sometimes it is proper that one side win a war and another lose it, for the sake of the world.  However, along the path to victory may we refrain from dehumanizing our fellow human beings on the other side, for God loves them also and they bear the image of God.  And, as we deal with agents of God, may we refrain from harming them, for

  1. we ought to heed them, and
  2. the use of violence for the purpose of defending one’s sense of righteousness belies the assertion of the possession of that virtue.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GEORG NEUMARK, GERMAN LUTHERAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN HINES, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/devotion-for-wednesday-after-proper-28-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Faithfulness and Faithlessness, Part I   1 comment

Antiochus IV Epiphanes

Above:  Antiochus IV Epiphanes

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty God, your sovereign purpose bring salvation to birth.

Give us faith amid the tumults of this world,

trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53

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The Assigned Readings:

Daniel 8:1-14 (Monday)

Daniel 8:15-27 (Tuesday)

Psalm 13 (Both Days)

Hebrews 10:26-31 (Monday)

Hebrews 10:32-39 (Tuesday)

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How long, O LORD?

Will you forget me forever?

how long will you hide your face from me?

How long shall I have perplexity of mind,

and grief in my heart, day after day?

how long shall my enemy triumph over me?

Look upon me and answer me, O LORD my God;

give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death;

lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed,”

and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.

But I trust in your mercy;

my heart is joyful because of your saving help.

I will sing to you, O LORD,

for you have dealt with me richly;

I will praise the name of the Lord Most High.

–Psalm 13, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Hebrews 10:26-39 cautions against committing apostasy, that is, falling away from God.  The consequences will be dire, the pericope tells us.

Daniel 8, dating from the second century B.C.E., contains references to the Hasmonean rebellion in Judea and to the evil Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164 B.C.E.).  Antiochus IV took the name “Epiphanes,” meaning “God manifest.”  The author of 1 Maccabees referred to him as “a sinful root” (1:10).  The author of 2 Maccabees wrote of Antiochus IV’s indolence and arrogance in Chapter 9 and called him “the ungodly man” (9:9) and “the murderer and blasphemer” (9:28).  The monarch had, after all, desecrated the Temple at Jerusalem and presided over a bloody persecution of Jews.  Certainly many faithful Jews prayed the text of Psalm 13, wondering how long the persecution would continue while anticipating its end.  Antiochus IV died amid disappointment over military defeat (1 Maccabees 6:1-13 and 2 Maccabees 9:1-29).  The author of 2 Maccabees, unlike the writer of 1 Maccabees, mentioned details about how physically repulsive the king had become at the end (2 Maccabees 9:9-12).

By his cunning, he will use deceit successfully.  He will make great pans, will destroy many, taking them unawares, and will rise up against the chief of chiefs, but will be broken, not by [human] hands.

–Daniel 8:25, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The “chief of chiefs” was God, and, according to 2 Maccabees 9, God struck down Antiochus IV.  The monarch, who never fell away from God because he never followed God, faced dire circumstances.

I acknowledge the existence of judgment and mercy in God while admitting ignorance of the location of the boundary separating them.  That is a matter too great for me, so I file it under the heading “divine mystery.”  Hebrews 10:31 tells us that

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Yet, if we endure faithfully, as many Jews did during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and the author of the Letter to the Hebrews encouraged Jewish Christians to do, God will remain faithful to us.  Many Christians have endured violent persecutions and political imprisonments with that hope keeping them spiritually alive.  Many still do.  Many Christians have become martyrs, never letting go of that hope.  Today tyrants and their servants continue to make martyrs out of faithful people.  May we, who are fortunate not to have to endure such suffering for the sake of righteousness, not lose faith either.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GEORG NEUMARK, GERMAN LUTHERAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN HINES, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-proper-28-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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This is post #1350 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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Humility and Arrogance, Part I   1 comment

Parable of the Wicked Servants

Above:  Parable of the Wicked Servants

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty God, your sovereign purpose bring salvation to birth.

Give us faith amid the tumults of this world,

trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53

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The Assigned Readings:

Daniel 4:4-18 (Thursday)

Daniel 4:19-27 (Friday)

Daniel 4:28-37 (Saturday)

Psalm 16 (All Days)

1 Timothy 6:11-21 (Thursday)

Colossians 2:6-15 (Friday)

Mark 12:1-12 (Saturday)

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FYI:  Daniel 4:1-37 in Protestant Bibles equals Daniel 4:1-34 in Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox translations.

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Arrogance can be easy to muster and humility can be difficult to manifest.  I know this well, for

  1. I have been prone to intellectual arrogance, and
  2. humility can be painful.

To be fair, some people I have known have nurtured my intellectual arrogance via their lack of intellectual curiosity and their embrace of anti-intellectualism.  That reality, however, does nothing to negate the spiritual problem.  I am glad to report, however, that it is a subsiding problem, by grace.

The internal chronology of the Book of Daniel defies historical accuracy; I came to understand that fact years ago via close study of the text.  The Book of Daniel is folkloric and theological, not historical and theological.  The folktale for these three days concerns King Nebuchadrezzar II (a.k.a. Nebuchadnezzar II), King of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, who reigned from 605 to 562 B.C.E.  The arrogant monarch, the story tells us, fell into insanity.  Then he humbled himself before God, who restored the king’s reason.

So now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt, and glorify the King of Heaven, all of whose works are just and whose ways are right, and who is able to humble those who behave arrogantly.

–Daniel 4:34, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This is folklore, not history, but the lesson regarding the folly of arrogance is true.

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mark 12:1-12) exists in the context of conflict between Jesus and Temple authorities during the days immediately prior to his death.  In Chapter 11 our Lord and Savior cleansed the Temple and, in a symbolic act, cursed a fig tree as a sign of his rejection of the Temple system.  In Chapters 11 and 12 Temple authorities attempted to entrap Jesus in his words.  He evaded the traps and ensnared his opponents instead.  In this context Jesus told the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.  The vineyard was Israel, the slain slaves/servants were prophets, and the beloved son was Jesus.  The tenants were the religious leaders in Jerusalem.  They sought that which belonged to God, for Christ was the heir to the vineyard.

1 Timothy 6:11-21 continues a thread from earlier in the chapter.  Greed is bad, we read:

But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

–6:9-10, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Faithful people of God, however, are to live differently, pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness (verse 11).  The wealthy are to avoid haughtiness and reliance on uncertain riches, and to trust entirely in God (verse 17).  Further instructions for them include being generous and engaging in good works (verse 18).

Complete dependence upon God is a Biblical lesson from both Testaments.  It is a pillar of the Law of Moses, for example, and one finds it in 1 Timothy 6, among many other parts of the New Testament.  Colossians 2:6-15 drives the point home further, reminding us that Christ has cancelled the debt of sin.

Forgiveness as the cancellation of debt reminds me of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35).  A king forgave a large debt–10,000 talents–a servant owed to him.  Given that one talent was fifteen years’ worth of wages for a laborer, and that the debt was therefore 150,000 years’ worth of wages, the amount of the debt was hyperbolic.  The point of the hyperbole in the parable was that the debt was impossible to repay.  The king was merciful, however.  Unfortunately, the servant refused to forgive debts other people owed to him, so the king revoked the debt forgiveness and sent the servant to prison.

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

–Matthew 18:35, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Just as God forgives us, we have a responsibility to forgive others.  Doing so might require us to lay aside illusions of self-importance.  That has proven true in my life.

The path of walking humbly with God and acknowledging one’s total dependence upon God leads to liberation from illusions of grandeur, independence, and self-importance.  It leads one to say, in the words of Psalm 16:1 (Book of Common Worship, 1993):

Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;

I have said to the LORD, “You are my Lord,

my good above all other.”

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GEORG NEUMARK, GERMAN LUTHERAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN HINES, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-28-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Responsibilities, Insiders, and Outsiders   1 comment

Boaz--Rembrandt van Rijn

Above:  Boaz, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, you show forth your almighty power

chiefly by reaching out to us in mercy.

Grant to us the fullness of your grace,

strengthen our trust in your promises,

and bring all the world to share in the treasures that come

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Ruth 1:1-22 (Monday)

Ruth 3:14-4:6 (Tuesday)

Ruth 4:7-22 (Wednesday)

Psalm 94 (All Days)

1 Timothy 5:1-8 (Monday)

1 Timothy 5:9-16 (Tuesday)

Luke 4:16-30 (Wednesday)

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The Lord will not cast off his people:

nor will he forsake his own.

For justice shall return to the righteous man:

and with him to all the true of heart.

–Psalm 94:14-15, The Alternative Service Book 1980

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The composite pericope from 1 Timothy comes from a particular place and time, so some of the details do not translate well into contemporary Western settings.  May we, therefore, refrain from falling into legalism.  Nevertheless, I detect much of value in that reading, which acknowledges the existence of both collective and individual responsibilities and sorts out the boundary separating them in a particular cultural context.  One principle from that text is that relatives should, as they are able, take care of each other.  Another principle present in the reading is mutuality–responsibility to and for each other.

The lack of a support system, or at least an adequate one, is a major cause of poverty and related ills.  The support system might be any number of things, including:

  1. the social safety net (the maintenance and strengthening of which I consider to be a moral imperative),
  2. friends,
  3. relatives,
  4. neighbors,
  5. the larger community,
  6. a faith community,
  7. non-governmental organizations, or
  8. a combination of some of the above.

In the Book of Ruth Naomi and Ruth availed themselves of effective support systems.  They moved to Bethlehem, where Ruth was a foreigner but Naomi had relatives.  The women also gleaned in fields.  There Ruth met Boaz, a landowner and a kinsman of Naomi.  He obeyed the commandment from Deuteronomy 24:19 and left grain for the poor.  The story had a happy ending, for Ruth and Boaz married and had a son.  Naomi, once bitter, was thrilled.

One hypothesis regarding the Book of Ruth is that the text dates to the postexilic period.  If this is accurate, the story of the marriage of Ruth and Boaz functions as a criticism of opposition to intermarriage between Hebrews and foreigners and serves as a call for the integration of faithful foreigners into Jewish communities.  The Jewish support system, this perspective says, should extend to Gentiles.

Sometimes the call to exercise individual responsibility and to fulfill one’s role in collective responsibility becomes challenging, if not annoying.  One difficulty might be determining the line between the two sets of responsibilities.  Getting that detail correct is crucial, for we are responsible to and for each other.  The Pauline ethic (as in 2 Corinthians 8:7-15) which holds that those who have much should not have too much and that those who have little should not have too little is a fine goal toward which to strive, but who determines how much is too much and how little is too little?  And what is the best way to arrive at and maintain that balance?  These seem like communal decisions, given the communal ethos of the Bible.

If all that were not enough, we might have responsibilities to and for more people than we prefer or know we do.  John Donne wrote,

No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thy friend’s

Or of thine own were:

Any man’s death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.

Do we dare to live according to the standard that anyone’s death diminishes us?  Do we dare to recognize foreigners and other “outsiders” as people whom God loves and whom we ought to love as we love ourselves?  Do we dare to think of “outsiders” as people to whom and for whom we are responsible?  If we do, how will we change the world for the better?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 6, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT VINCENTIA GEROSA AND BARTHOLOMEA CAPITANIO, COFOUNDERS OF THE SISTERS OF CHARITY OF LOVERE

THE FEAST OF ISAIAH, BIBLICAL PROPHET

THE FEAST OF JAN HUS, PROTO-PROTESTANT MARTYR

THE FEAST OF OLUF HANSON SMEBY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-27-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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If Only   1 comment

Fig Tree

Above:  A Fig Tree, 1915

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-01901

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The Collect:

O God, you show forth your almighty power

chiefly by reaching out to us in mercy.

Grant to us the fullness of your grace,

strengthen our trust in your promises,

and bring all the world to share in the treasures that come

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 15:1-11 (Friday)

Deuteronomy 24:17-22 (Saturday)

Psalm 146 (Both Days)

Hebrews 9:15-24 (Friday)

Mark 11:12-14, 20-24 (Saturday)

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Blessed is the man whose help is the God of Jacob:

whose hope is in the Lord his God,

the God who made heaven and earth:

the sea and all that is in them,

who keeps faith forever:

who deals justice to those that are oppressed.

–Psalm 146:5-7, The Alternative Service Book 1980

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For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land, which is why I command you:  open your hand to the poor and needy kinsman in your land.

–Deuteronomy 15:11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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Deuteronomy 15:11 follows two pivotal verses:

There shall be no needy among you–since the LORD your God will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a hereditary portion–if only you heed the LORD your God and take care to keep all this instruction that I enjoin upon you this day.

–Deuteronomy 15:4-5, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

“If only” is a major condition in that passage.

The readings from Deuteronomy acknowledge the reality of the presence of needy people and provide culturally specific ways to minimize the social problem.  These include:

  1. Forgiving debts of Hebrews (but not for foreigners) and the freeing of servants every seventh year;
  2. Refraining from exploiting strangers, widows, and orphans;
  3. Leaving olives on trees and grapes in vineyards for the poor to pick; and
  4. Leaving grain in the fields for the poor to glean.

Examples change according to the location and time, but the principle to care for the less fortunate on the societal and individual levels is constant.

Failure to obey these laws was among the charges Hebrews prophets made against their society.  The Temple system at the time of Jesus exploited the poor and promoted collaboration with the Roman Empire and a form of piety dependent upon wealth.  The story of the cursed fig tree in Mark 11 uses the fig tree as a symbol for Israel and the cursing of the plant as an allegory of our Lord and Savior’s rejection of the Temple system, for the two parts of the reading from Mark 11 function as bookends for the cleansing of the Temple.

And when the chief priests and scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.

–Mark 11:19, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Therefore I find a fitting segue to the pericope from Hebrews 9, with its theme of cleansing from sin by blood.  (Let us never give the Resurrection of Jesus short shrift, for, without the Resurrection, we have a perpetually dead Jesus.)  Jesus died because of, among other reasons, the threat he posed to the political-religious Temple system, the shortcomings of which he criticized.  The actual executioners were Romans, whose empire took the law-and-order mentality to an extreme.  Our Lord and Savior was dangerous in the eyes of oppressors, who acted.  God used their evil deeds for a redemptive purpose, however.  That sounds like grace to me.

If only more societies and governments heeded the call for economic justice.  If only more religious institutions sought ways to care effectively for the poor and to reduce poverty rates.  If only more people recognized the image of God in the marginalized and acted accordingly.  If only more governments and societies considered violence to be the last resort and refrained from using it against nonviolent people.  If only…, the world would be a better place.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 6, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT VINCENTIA GEROSA AND BARTHOLOMEA CAPITANIO, COFOUNDERS OF THE SISTERS OF CHARITY OF LOVERE

THE FEAST OF ISAIAH, BIBLICAL PROPHET

THE FEAST OF JAN HUS, PROTO-PROTESTANT MARTYR

THE FEAST OF OLUF HANSON SMEBY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/devotion-for-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-27-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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