Archive for August 2015

Works in Progress   1 comment

Twelve Tribes Map

Above:  Twelve Tribes of Israel

Scanned from an old Bible

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave us your only Son

to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 31:7-14

Psalm 72

John 1:[1-9] 10-18

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Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,

who alone does wonderful things.

And blessed be his glorious name for ever.

May all the earth be filled with his glory.

Amen. Amen.

–Psalm 72:18-19, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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The reading from Jeremiah 31 comes from articles of consolation focusing on national reunification.  The exiles from Israel, the northern kingdom, will reunite with Judah, the southern kingdom, the text says.  God will turn mourning into joy.

The ten “lost” tribes are not lost, at least not in the sense that their locations are unknown.  The tribes scattered across Africa and Asia.  Most of them have not reunited with the main body of Judaism, although Jewish organizations have been working with some of these groups for the purpose of working toward that goal.  Then there is the case of the Ethiopian Jews, many of whom have relocated to the State of Israel, where they have to contend with racism, a high rate of poverty, and allegations of being insufficiently Jewish.  The prediction of Jeremiah 31 has yet to come true.  The continued passage of time will render its verdict on that prophecy.

The prologue to the Gospel of John is a glorious and profound text.  It, like Jeremiah 31:7-14 and Psalm 72, speaks of acts of God.  Some of these acts have yet to occur.  Yes, the tense in the prologue is past, but consider, O reader, the following passage, the following passage:

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or the will of man, but of God.

–Verses 12-13, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

This continues, does it not?  But to all who receive him….  This will continue, will it not?  But to all who will receive him….

God has acted.  God is acting.  God will continue to act.  As the United Church of Christ says,

God is still speaking.

God has not finished speaking or acting, so who among the ranks of mere mortals knows or can know how God will surprise people next or behave in a non-surprising way?  The passage of time will reveal the answers.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 25, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL FARADAY, SCIENTIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/devotion-for-january-5-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Secrets, Lies, and Misconceptions   1 comment

Oil Lamp

Above:  A Biblical Oil Lamp

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave us your only Son

to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

Job 42:10-17 (January 3)

Isaiah 6:1-5 (January 4)

Psalm 72 (Both Days)

Luke 8:16-21 (January 3)

Acts 7:44-53 (January 4)

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Give the king your judgments, O God,

and your righteousness to the son of a king.

Then shall he judge your people righteously

and your poor with injustice.

–Psalm 72:1-2, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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Solomon built the first Temple.  Unfortunately, he used high taxes and forced labor to do so.  So much for justice for the poor!

We cannot keep our secrets forever.  It is good, therefore, that one’s secrets be either positive or morally neutral.  To give to charity anonymously, for example, is a positive secret.  To contribute beauty to the world anonymously for the glory of God is also a virtue.  I think, for example, of William Arthur Dunkerley (1852-1941), who went to much effort to keep the secret that he was the novelist, poet, and religious writer John Oxenham.  Authors and editors of hymnal companion volumes from his lifetime did not know the actual identity of John Oxenham.  (I know, for I own such books from that time period.)

Why we keep secrets matters.  Sometimes it is simply a matter of privacy.  “None of your business” is frequently a legitimate reason.  Keeping a secret so that glory will go to God, one oneself, is a good reason, as I have argued.  Yet covering up something negative, although perhaps successful for a period of time, will fail, at least in the ultimate court of justice–that of God.

The majesty and mystery of God, in whose presence we are not worthy to stand, is awe-inspiring.  That majesty and mystery also becomes an unfortunate excuse to dodge proper questions which warrant real answers.  In the Book of Job, for example, God permitted the titular character to suffer as a test of his loyalty.  Job insisted correctly on his innocence (to which the text attests).  Job deserved a real answer from God.  Instead he received the “I’m God and you’re not” reply.  Then he recanted.  The tacked-on happy ending, in which God restores Job’s riches and gives him more children, does not satisfy me.  The God of the Book of Job is a figure to recoil from in terror, not to love.

A faithful, awe-filled response to God, who exceeds human capacity of comprehension, includes loving and glorifying God, enjoying God, and loving one’s neighbor as one loves oneself.  Attitudes lead to actions.  So, without falling into the heresy of Pietism, I affirm the principle of the Letter of James that works matter.  So does being careful regarding what one says and writes about the character of God.  Many people have used God as an excuse to justify their bigotry and violence.  Some of them wrote parts of scripture.  The standard for me is Jesus of Nazareth, God incarnate.  Understandings of God have changed and continue to do so, but Christ is constant.  And that is no secret.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 25, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL FARADAY, SCIENTIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/devotion-for-january-3-and-4-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Wisdom, Folly, and Maliciousness   1 comment

Herbert Spencer

Above:  Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave us your only Son

to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 1:-17

Psalm 147:12-20

James 3:13-18

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Great is our God and mighty in power;

his wisdom is beyond all telling.

The Lord lifts up the poor,

but casts down the wicked to the ground.

–Psalm 147:5-6, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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The two main pericopes for this day contrast divine wisdom and human contrast divine wisdom and human folly and maliciousness.  Divine wisdom builds up communities and societies.  It is

first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full to mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.

–James 3:17, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The alleged wisdom of the world, however, is actually folly and maliciousness.  It builds up those who practice it, but at the expense of others.  And it harms those who practice it, for whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves.  “No man is an island,” as John Donne wrote.

I have noticed for years the dismaying practice of engaging in Social Darwinism that would make Herbert Spencer blush and dressing it up as godly.  This has been especially egregious in U.S. politics.  Often being mean-spirited is better for one’s poll numbers than being compassionate and gentle.  Sadly, the condemnations of human folly and maliciousness in Proverbs 1 and James 3 remain relevant, for speaking favorably of programs of social uplift can lead to unjustified allegations from mean-spirited people, many of whom claim allegiance to Jesus.

This is a devotion for the second day of the year.  May the new year be a time for increased levels of compassion and gentleness, of love for one’s neighbors (we are all neighbors, according to Jesus), and respect for the inherent dignity of our fellow human beings during all stages of life.  Being compassionate and gentle builds up communities and societies.  It is good for individuals, none of whom are proverbial islands.  It is strength, not weakness, and virtue, not something to mock.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 24, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BARTHOLOMEW, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/devotion-for-january-2-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Discomfort with Scripture   1 comment

Temple of Solomon

Above:  The Temple of Solomon

Scan (from an old book) by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Discomfort with Scripture

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2015, and THURSDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2015

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave us your only Son

to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Chronicles 3:10-17 (December 30)

1 Kings 3:5-14 (December 31)

Psalm 147:12-20 (Both Days)

Mark 13:32-37 (December 30)

John 8:12-19 (December 31)

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Psalm 147 is a happy hymn of praise to God.  Reading, chanting, or singing that text makes people feel good and holy.  But what about other psalms and parts thereof?

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,

happy the one who repays you

for all you have done to us;

Who take your little ones,

and dashes them against the rock.

–Psalm 137:8-9, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

The pericopes for these days constitute a combination of the comfortable and the cringe-worthy.  King Solomon, after obeying his father’s advice and conducting a royal purge after his accession, allegedly received wisdom from God.  He also built a beautiful Temple in Jerusalem, financing it with high taxes and using forced labor.  The Temple was, in the Hebrew religion of the time, where people found reconciliation with God.  And it existed courtesy of the monarchy.  Solomon was using religion to prop up the dynasty.  Meanwhile, the details of Solomon’s reign revealed a lack of wisdom, especially in governance.

Jesus as the light of the world (John 8:12-19) fits easily inside the comfort zones of many people, but the entirety of Mark 13 does not.  That chapter, a miniature apocalypse, proves terribly inconvenient to those who prefer a perpetually smiling Jesus (as in illustrations for many Bibles and Bible story books for children) and a non-apocalyptic Christ.  Yet the chapter is present.

The best approach to scripture is an honest and faithful one.  To pretend that contradictions which do exist do not exist is dishonest, and to lose oneself among the proverbial trees and therefore lose sight of the continuity in the forest is faithless.  Many authors from various backgrounds and timeframes contributed to the Bible, that sacred anthology.  They disagreed regarding various topics, and theology changed as time passed.  Yet there is much consistency on major topics.  And, when certain passages cause us to squirm in discomfort, we are at least thinking about them.  Bringing one’s intellect to bear on scripture is a proper thing to do, for higher-order thinking is part of the image of God, which each human being bears.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 24, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BARTHOLOMEW, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/devotion-for-december-30-and-31-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Three Temples   1 comment

Jerusalem and the Second Temple--James Tissot

Above:  Jerusalem and the Second Temple, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave us your only Son

to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Chronicles 28:1-10

Psalm 147:12-20

1 Corinthians 3:10-17

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[The Lord] sends forth his word and melts them;

he blows within his wind and the waters flow.

He declares his word to Jacob,

his statutes and judgments to Israel.

He has not dealt so with any other nation;

they do not know his laws.  Alleluia.

–Psalm 147:19-21, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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The pericope from 1 Chronicles, true to the pro-Davidic Dynasty bias of 1-2 Chronicles, omits certain unflattering details and depicts King David as a champion of fidelity to God.  It does, however, say that David’s bloodshed made him unfit to build a temple for YHWH at Jerusalem.

St. Paul the Apostle, writing while the Second Temple still stood, argued that those who trust in God are the Temple of God:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person.  For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

–1 Corinthians 3:16-17, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

“You” is plural.

I wonder how much better the world would be if more people treated others as parts of the Temple of God–as individuals to respect, if not get along with all the time.  Yet each person has God-given dignity as a bearer of the image of God.  This concept of people–believers, in particular–as the Temple teaches us to treat one another properly.  Even non-believers bear the image of God, and therefore deserve good treatment and basic respect.

I admit that I have an easier time extending basic respect to favored cats and to people I like and who mostly agree with me than to those who annoy me and who seldom agree with me.  Some people think so differently from me that, given the opportunity, they argue about even objective matters, such as what the weather forecast says.  They seem like characters from the great Argument Clinic sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  (Statement:  “I came here for an argument.”  Reply:  “No, you didn’t.”)  So I have some spiritual work to do, via grace.  You, O reader, might not be so different from me in that regard.  The good news here is that we need not rely on our own power to accomplish this goal, for we have access to divine grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 23, 2015 COMMON ERA

PROPER 16:  THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JOHN COPELAND, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/devotion-for-december-29-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Kingdom of God, Part III   1 comment

New Jerusalem

Above:  The New Jerusalem

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave us your only Son

to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 54:1-13

Psalm 148

Revelation 21:1-7

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Kings of the earth and all peoples,

princes and all rulers of the world;

Young men and maidens,

old and young together.

Let them praise the Name of the LORD,

for his splendor is over earth and heaven.

He has raised up strength for his people

and praise for all his loyal servants,

the children of Israel, a people who are near him.

Hallelujah!

–Psalm 148, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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God will dwell among mortals, we read in Revelation 21:3.  The context of that statement is a prediction of the fully realized Kingdom of God.  The partially evident Kingdom of God has been present on the planet since at least the time of Jesus, who was God dwelling among mortals.  That is one of many reasons to praise the LORD.

The existence and love of God do not indicate the absence of suffering and judgment.  In the pericope from Isaiah 54,  for example, divine grace follows divine judgment.  Sometimes we mere mortals must suffer the temporal consequences of our sins.  God still loves us, though.  Do we learn from our errors and love God?

As one thinks, so one is.  Only God can usher in the fully realized Kingdom of God, but we can, by grace, love God fully and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  We can, by grace, make (more) evident the partially realized Kingdom of God in our midst.  And we can, with regard to our communities, societies, nation-states, and planet, by grace, pass the “leave it better than you found it” test.

December 28 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  They because King Herod the Great was mean, afraid, and paranoid, and because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Unfortunately, the planet has never lacked murderous tyrants during all of recorded history.  The existence of such bad people points to the partial realization of the Kingdom of God.  We do, however, have a realistic hope of the fully realized Kingdom of God in the future.  Will we cling to that hope?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 23, 2015 COMMON ERA

PROPER 16:  THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JOHN COPELAND, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/devotion-for-december-28-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Loving God II: Following Jesus and Loving God   1 comment

St. Peter

Above:  Mosaic of St. Peter

Image Source = Jose Luiz

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave us your only Son

to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 8:32-36

Psalm 148

John 21:19b-24

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Kings of the earth and all peoples,

princes and all rulers of the world;

Young men and maidens,

old and young together.

Let them praise the Name of the LORD,

for his splendor is over earth and heaven.

He has raised up strength for his people

and praise for all his loyal servants,

the children of Israel, a people who are near him.

Hallelujah!

–Psalm 148, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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If you love me you will obey my commandments; and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another to be your advocate, who will be with you for ever–the Spirit of truth.

–John 14:15-17a, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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“Follow me,” Jesus says in John 21.  Lady Wisdom (“Sophia” in Greek), some of whose characteristics overlap with those of the Word (the Logos) of God in John 1, offers life-giving wisdom in Proverbs 8.  The awe of God is the beginning of wisdom in a person of wisdom in a person (Sirach/Ecclesiasaticus 1:14).  Sophia, in the context of Proverbs 8, is the female personification of divine wisdom.  Divine strength has male personification.  The combination of these metaphors points to a genderless figure we call God.  Nevertheless, the use of gendered metaphors relative to God proves useful in human cultural contexts, so who am I to object?  As long as know we are using metaphors, we will avoid certain theological excesses and errors.

Sometimes the best way to relate to God is via metaphors.  In private prayer I address God simply as “you,” but maybe even that is too anthropomorphic to be literally true.  I must say something, though.  I have chosen to embrace the mystery of God, use metaphors, and stand in awe of God, who is so far beyond me as to exceed my capacity for comprehension.  I have chosen to follow to Jesus day after day, even though I know I will never understand the mechanics of the incarnation.  Salvation, however, is not a matter of knowledge.

One can love another without understanding the other.  One can embrace a sacred mystery and strive to love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself.  One can love God fully without passing a canonical examination.  There is much none of us will comprehend.  That is fine.  But do we love God, who loves us?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 22, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DRYDEN, ENGLISH PURITAN THEN ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AND TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/devotion-for-december-27-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Two Stonings   1 comment

Murder of Zechariah

Above:  The Murder of Zechariah, by William Brassey Hole

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave us your only Son

to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Chronicles 4:17-24

Psalm 148

Acts 6:1-7; 7:51-60

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Psalm 148 is a song of praise to God, especially in nature.  The text begins with references to the created order then moves along to people in social and political contexts.  Finally we read:

[The LORD] has exalted his people in the pride of power

and crowned with praise his loyal servants,

Israel, a people close to him.

Praise the LORD.

–Verse 15, The Revised English Bible (1989)

In the context of this day’s pericopes Psalm 148 functions as a counterpoint to the other readings.  In them holy men of God died for the sake of righteousness.  Zechariah, a priest and the son of Jehoida, also a priest, died because of his condemnation of idolatry.  Zechariah said:

Thus God said:  Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD when you cannot succeed?  Since you have forsaken the LORD, He has forsaken you.

–2 Chronicles 24:20b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

His punishment was execution by stoning at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Similar in tone and content is the story of St. Stephen, one of the first seven Christian deacons and the first Christian martyr.  The diaconate came to exist because it was necessary.  Apostles perceived the need to divide labor:

It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.

–Acts 6:2b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

So the deacons fed the hungry widows.  St. Stephen died by stoning not because of his participation in an ancient Means on Wheels program but because of his preaching.  He, like Zechariah son of Jehoida, accused his audience of having abandoned God.

These two stories end differently, though.  The dying words of Zechariah son of Jehoida were:

May the LORD see this and exact the penalty.

–2 Chronicles 24:22b, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The interpretation of subsequent events in that book is that God avenged the priest (24:24).  King Jehoash/Joash of Israel (reigned 836-798 B.C.E.) died after becoming wounded in a devastating Aramean invasion.  His servants murdered him on his bed.

In contrast, St. Stephen prayed for his killers:

Lord, do not hold this sin against them.

–Acts 7:60b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The text does not indicate what effects, if any, that had on any of his executioners.  We do know, however, that Saul of Tarsus, who approved of the execution, went on to become St. Paul the Apostle.  One need not stray from the proverbial path of reasonableness to say that St. Paul, pondering his past and God’s grace, to say that he regretted having ever approved of St. Stephen’s death.

The use of violence to rid oneself of an inconvenient person is sinful.  To commit violence for this purpose in the name of God, presumably to affirm one’s righteousness in the process, is ironic, for that violence belies the claim of righteousness.  Furthermore, there are only victims in violent acts.  The person who commits violence harms himself or herself, at least spiritually, if in no other way.  Violence might be necessary or preferable to any alternative sometimes, but nobody should ever celebrate it or turn to it as a first resort.

Whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves.  May we pursue peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation, not revenge.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 22, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DRYDEN, ENGLISH PURITAN THEN ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AND TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/devotion-for-december-26-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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God, Challenging   1 comment

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

Above:  The Visitation

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave us your only Son

to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

Micah 4:1-5 (December 22)

Micah 4:6-8 (December 23)

Luke 1:46b-55 (Both Days)

Ephesians 2:22-22 (December 22)

2 Peter 1:16-21 (December 23)

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And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord

and my spirit exults in God my savior;

because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.

Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,

for the Almighty has done great things for me.

Holy is his name,

and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.

He has shown the power of his arm,

he has routed the proud of heart.

He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.

He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy

–according to the promise he made to our ancestors–

of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.

–Luke 1:46-55, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

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One function of rhetoric regarding the fully realized Kingdom of God is to criticize the errors of human social, economic, and political systems.  Exploitation of people, often via the artificial scarcity of wealth, has been a serious problem for a long time.  Many of the hardest working people are among the poorest, for many economic systems are rigged to benefit a relative few people, not the masses, and therefore the society as a whole.  Violence is among the leading causes of poverty and hunger, corruption frustrates poverty and creates more of it, and labeling groups of people “outsiders” wrongly for the benefit of the self-appointed “insiders” harms not just the “outsiders” but all members of society.  Whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves.  As even many antebellum defenders of race-based chattel slavery in the United States of America admitted, keeping a large population “in their place,” that is subservient to Whites, held back Whites and the entire society also.  After all, if keeping a large population “in their place” was to be a reality, who was going to keep them there without forgoing other tasks?  In human brotherhood free people could have advanced together, but slavery delayed the society in which it existed.

In Christ, we read in Ephesians 2, we are:

no longer strangers and aliens, but…citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord….

–Verses 19-21, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

2 Peter 1 reminds us “cleverly concocted tales” to quote The Revised English Bible (1989), form the basis of the declaration of the majesty and power of Jesus.  The oral tradition, which informs many canonical writings, has a flexible spine which preserves the core of stories yet permits variation in recall of minor details.  Nevertheless, the narrative retains its integrity, even if it contradicts itself about, for example, in whose house a woman anointed Jesus.  So, without committing the error of biblical literalism, I affirm that something happened and that we can have at least an outline of what that was.

This is a devotion for December 22 and 23, two of the last three days of Advent.  This is a time when I complain about the inaccuracy of many manger scenes.  The shepherds, from the Gospel of Luke, were at Bethlehem.  The Magi, from the Gospel of Matthew, were at Nazareth a few years later.  What are they doing in the same visual representations?  Why have more Christians, churches, and artists not paid attention to these details?  Regarding those details I acknowledge that, even if all of them are not literally true, something still happened and we can have some reliable idea about what that was.  Via the Incarnation God broke into human history and started a new chapter in the grand narrative of salvation.  That is no “cleverly concocted tale.”

God, via Jesus and other means, seeks to reconcile us to God and to each other.  Part of this reconciliation is the correction of social injustices, the perpetuation of which provides certain benefits to many of us while harming us simultaneously.  In baby Jesus we have a reminder that God approaches us in a variety of ways, some of which we do not expect.  We might miss some of them because we are not looking for them.  Our functional fixedness is counterproductive.

God’s glorious refusal to fit into the proverbial boxes of our expectations challenges us to think and act anew.  May we rise to the challenge.

Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 21, 2015 COMMON ERA

 THE FEAST OF JOHN ATHELSTAN LAURIE RILEY, ANGLICAN ECUMENIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/devotion-for-december-22-and-23-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Loyalty and Renewal   1 comment

Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Above:  Icon of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Image in the Public Domain

Loyalty and Renewal

DECEMBER 23, 2015

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The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.

With your abundant grace and might,

free us from the sin that binds us,

that we may receive you in joy and serve you always,

for you live and reign with the Father and

the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 42:14-21

Psalm 113

Luke 1:5-25

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Who is like the LORD our God, who sits enthroned on high,

but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth?

He takes up the weak out of the dust

and lifts up the poor from the ashes.

He sets them with the princes,

with the princes of his people.

He makes the woman of a childless house

to be a joyful mother of children.

–Psalm 113:5-8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The theme of pregnancy continues for the third consecutive set of pericopes.  The warrior-like Yahweh of Isaiah 42 remains loyal to Israel, will redeem it, and “will scream like a woman in labor” (verse 14c, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures, 1985).  The reading from Luke 1 tells of the conception of St. John the Baptist, the great forerunner of his cousin, Jesus.  Once again a barren woman becomes pregnant, losing the disgrace resulting from her childlessness in a patriarchal culture.

These are accounts of new life, both physical and spiritual.  God, the pericopes tell us, is loyal to certain people on the basis of grace even when they are disloyal to God.  (There is doom for others, however.)  Is not God due loyalty?  Nothing we can offer God can repay for divine grace, but God does not seek repayment.  Our responsibility is to trust in God, loving God fully and our fellow human beings as we love ourselves.  One way of expressing love for God is loving our neighbors.

This is a devotion for a day in the vicinity of December 25, Christmas Day.  In Jesus, the author of the Gospel of John tells us, the Word (or Logos) of God “became flesh and lived among us” (1:14a, The New Revised Standard Version, 1989).  Yet Jesus met with rejection (1:11).  That rejection was an example of disloyalty to God.

May Christmas become for you, O reader, an occasion to renew your loyalty to God in Christ.  May the season of Christmas be twelve days of spiritual renewal as you celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 21, 2015 COMMON ERA

 THE FEAST OF JOHN ATHELSTAN LAURIE RILEY, ANGLICAN ECUMENIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/devotion-for-wednesday-after-the-fourth-sunday-of-advent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Posted August 21, 2015 by neatnik2009 in Isaiah 42, John 1, Luke 1, Psalm 113

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