Archive for November 2015

God Cares, Part III   1 comment

Mosaic, Church of the Multiplication

Above:  Mosaic, Church of the Multiplication, Tabgha, Israel

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

God of compassion, you welcome the wayward,

and you embrace us all with your mercy.

By our baptism clothe us with garments of your grace,

and feed us at the table of your love,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Kings 4:1-7

Psalm 53

Luke 9:10-17

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The benighted man thinks,

“God does not care.”

–Psalm 53:2, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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The theme of God caring has been present in the previous two posts.  That motif recurs here also.

This time we read of God caring about practical needs.  Food is among the most basic necessities of life.  A human body, deprived of food for too long, dies of starvation.  The extravagance of God in the feeding of the five thousand men (plus uncounted women and children) in Luke 9 and the oil refills in 2 Kings 4 point to divine mercy.  The widow had an abundant supply of oil to sell for funds to pay her debts and therefore save her children from slavery.  The rest of the oil was for cooking purposes at her home.  The crowd in Luke 9 ate well and left enough food to fill twelve baskets.

Questions of historicity interest me, but I conclude that, in these cases, pursuing them would lead me away from the main points of these accounts.  I am writing a devotion, not a dry academic text.  The Benedictine practice of lectio divino is reading scripture for formation, not information.  One of my spiritual mentors in the 1990s taught me to ask one question when reading a portion of scripture.

What is really going on here?

has been my guiding query germane to the Bible since then.  My answer to it in these cases is that there are always leftovers with divine extravagance.

God cares so much as to provide more than enough for everybody to have enough.  Only human sin, often in institutionalized forms, creates scarcity.  Apart from such sin those who have little will still have enough.  The purpose of this abundance is not that he who dies with the most toys wins, but that all people be able to fulfill their needs, both temporal and spiritual.  Divine extravagance, therefore, comes in both forms.

A complicating factor is the frequent inability or unwillingness to distinguish between needs and wants.  May each of us know the difference, accept the extravagance of God gratefully, apply it properly, and help others as we are able and is best for them.  As we have needs may we receive.  As we can and should donate, may we do so.  All of us depend upon God and each other.  Furthermore, all of us are responsible to and for each other.  May we take care of each other, glorify God, and exploit and oppress no person.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 30, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANDREW THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/devotion-for-wednesday-after-the-fourth-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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God Cares, Part II   1 comment

Ozark Family

Above:  A Destitute Family in the Ozark Mountains, Arkansas, 1935

Photographer = Ben Shahn (1898-1969)

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USF33-006071-M2

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The Collect:

God of compassion, you welcome the wayward,

and you embrace us all with your mercy.

By our baptism clothe us with garments of your grace,

and feed us at the table of your love,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 23:26-41 (Monday)

Leviticus 25:1-19 (Tuesday)

Psalm 53 (Both Days)

Revelation 19:1-8 (Monday)

Revelation 19:9-10 (Tuesday)

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The benighted man thinks,

“God does not care.”

–Psalm 53:2, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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The New Revised Standard Version (1989) offers a more traditional rendering of that verse:

Fools say in their hearts,

“There is no God.”

–Psalm 53:1a

Singular versus plural in the realm of nouns is not the issue that really concerns me.  I do not live in fear or distrust of masculine words, but I do guard the distinction between the singular and the plural in the realm of pronouns zealously.  My tenacity regarding language aside, I focus on my main point:  the translators of TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) rendered Psalm 53 and its basis, Psalm 14, correctly.  Every scholarly commentary I have consulted regarding Psalms 14 and 53 agrees that the issue is practical atheism, not the denial of the existence of God.  Atheism was rare in the ancient Middle East, but living as if God did not care was rampant among Hebrews.

God cares.  For God to exist God must care.  God cares for us and the rest of the created order.  God cares about justice.  The Sabbath laws and codes for the year of the jubilee in Leviticus reveal that God cares about people so much as to give them time off from work.  One needs to rest and play as well as to work in order to lead a balanced life.  Unfortunately, the annals of Christian history are full of instances of people labeling proper recreation as something sinful.  I note that targets for this mislabeling have included chess and other games, which medical experts know to be helpful for keeping one’s mind sharp and which educators consider useful in building mental acumen.  Even drinking tea, an excellent source of antioxidants, has been the target of condemnations for indulging one’s appetites.  Some people need to relax in their attitudes and lay legalism aside.

More to the point, time off is a mark of freedom, for a slave in Egypt had no day off from work.  Freedom from oppression, the context for Revelation 19, is not an invitation to impose new forms of oppression–legalism, needless guilt trips, et cetera.  God frees people to live in the liberty of mutual responsibility in community.  Each of us is accountable others, who are, in turn, responsible to each of us.  And everybody depends entirely upon and is accountable to God.  In this model there is no room for oppression or exploitation.  God frees us to lead lives of active compassion, empathy, and sympathy.  And God cares if we pursue that path.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 30, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANDREW THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-the-fourth-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Posted November 30, 2015 by neatnik2009 in Leviticus 25-27, Psalm 14, Psalm 53, Revelation of John 19

Tagged with ,

God Cares, Part I   1 comment

Good Shepherd

Above:  The Good Shepherd

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

God of compassion, you welcome the wayward,

and you embrace us all with your mercy.

By our baptism clothe us with garments of your grace,

and feed us at the table of your love,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 32:7-14

Psalm 32

Luke 15:1-10

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How blest is he whose transgression is forgiven,

whose sin has been remitted.

How blest the man

to whom Yahweh imputes no guilt,

And in whose spirit there is no guile.

But I had become like a potsherd,

my bones had wasted away

through my groaning all day long.

For day and night, O Most High,

your hand was oppressive;

I was ravaged, O Shaddai,

as by the drought of summer.

My sin I made known to you,

and did not hide my guilt from you.

I said, “I shall confess, O Most High,

my transgressions, O Yahweh!”

Then you forgave my sinful guilt.

–Psalm 32:1-5, Mitchell Dahood, The Anchor Bible (1966)

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Acknowledging one’s sins is pat of the process of repentance, or turning away from them.

The key word in the assigned reading from Luke 15 is repentance.  Jesus answers criticisms for welcoming and dining with sinners by telling parables of being lost then found and welcomed.  Sheep were essential to the livelihood of shepherds in verses 3-6, just as the small amount of money in verses 8 and 9 probably constituted the woman’s entire savings.  In each case a penitent sinner is as precious to God as the lost sheep is to the shepherd and the ten silver coins are to the woman.  Heavenly celebration ensues after the return of the newly penitent.  This theme continues in verses 11-32, traditionally the Parable of the Prodigal Son, although the loving father and the dutiful yet resentful older brother are equally compelling characters.

I detect a difference in the portrayal of God in Luke 15 and Exodus 32.  God seeks the lost in two parables in Luke 15 and waits for the return of the penitent in the third parable.  In Exodus 32, however, Moses has to persuade God not to destroy the Israelites.  Granted, they probably did not know the error of their ways, but the God of Luke 15 would have responded differently than the God of Exodus 32.  The God of Luke 15 would have, like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (for lack of a better name), waited for them to realize their sins then repent.

In universe, then, did the ten silver coins know that they were lost?  The Prodigal Son came to his senses in time.  And the lost sheep was an especially stupid animal.  Yet all of these were precious in Luke 15.

I acknowledge that both judgment and mercy exist in God.  The balance of them is beyond my purview.  Yet I rely on divine mercy, which I understand to be vast.  That mercy, extended to me, requires much of me.  I am, for example, to act mercifully toward others and to respond gratefully to God.  Grace is free, not cheap.

Principles are easy to state, but coming to understand how best to apply them in daily life is frequently difficult.  A well-meaning person might, out of faithfulness and compassion, act in such a way as to make a bad situation worse accidentally.  The most effective method of helping might not be obvious to one.  What is a person who seeks to apply the Golden Rule properly to do?  May you, O reader, find the proper answers in your circumstances.

May each of us, precious in the sight of God, remain faithful, repent when we depart from the proper path, and function as the most effective agents of divine mercy possible, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 30, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANDREW THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/devotion-for-saturday-before-the-fourth-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Miracles, Actual and Perceived   1 comment

River Jordan 1890

Above:  The River Jordan, 1890

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-02716

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The Collect:

God of compassion, you welcome the wayward,

and you embrace us all with your mercy.

By our baptism clothe us with garments of your grace,

and feed us at the table of your love,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Joshua 4:1-13 (Thursday)

Joshua 4:14-24 (Friday)

Psalm 32 (Both Days)

2 Corinthians 4:16-5:5 (Thursday)

2 Corinthians 5:6-15 (Friday)

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Rejoice in Yahweh and be glad, you just,

and shout for joy, all you upright of heart!

–Psalm 32:11, Mitchell Dahood, The Anchor Bible (1966)

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The theme of the power of God unites these days’ assigned readings.

The composite reading from Joshua 4, continuing directly from chapter 3, tells of the crossing of the Israelites into Canaan, the Promised Land.  Parallelism is evident, for one reads of a parting of the waters in Exodus 14 and in Joshua 3 and 4.  Each instance of such a parting has a natural explanation.  In Exodus 14:21 the author refers to

a strong east wind

(TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures, 1985).

The miracle of the Exodus from Egypt is therefore not the parting of the Sea of Reeds, but the liberation of the Hebrew slaves by the figurative hand of God.  J. Alberto Soggin, in Joshua:  A Commentary (1972), informs me that occasional earthquakes in Jordan valley cause walls of limestone to collapse, thereby forming natural dams which hold back water until the water forces its way through them.  Soggin provides three documented examples–in 1267, 1906, and 1927.  The miracle in Joshua 3 and 4, therefore, is that the Israelites ceased their wandering and entered the Promised Land.

The mighty power of God, in whom the just should rejoice and be glad, is of the essence in 2 Corinthians 4 and 5.  Via the power of God the just can withstand persecutions and other afflictions.  Through the power of God one can live confidently and faithfully.  By means of the power of God, who has initiated the process of reconciliation with human beings, we can make peace with others and with God.

This process of reconciliation requires us to abandon our slave mentalities.  The majority of Israelites who left Egypt remained slaves in their minds.  They were free yet did not think as free people.  Each of us is a slave to one thing or another if he or she chooses to be.  For many people the chosen master is a grudge or a set of resentments.  Seeking to correct injustice is positive, for it improves society.  However, nursing a grudge distracts a person from his or her purpose in God.  Many of us in Homo sapiens sapiens need first to make peace with ourselves, for, until we do that, we cannot be at peace with other people and with God.  Others of us have, fortunately, arrived at that spiritual place already.

To forgive oneself for being weak and sinful is essential.  To be at ease with one’s inadequacy and God’s sufficiency is crucial if one is to find peace with oneself.  Then one will have an easier time forgiving others for the same weak and sinful state.  This forgiveness might not happen immediately or quickly, but that is fine.  Sometimes one needs to let go, let God, and notice in the fullness of time that one’s anger has faded significantly, if not gone away completely.  When one realizes that this is the case, one has evidence of a miracle.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 29, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF GEORGE DAWSON, ENGLISH BAPTIST AND UNITARIAN PASTOR

THE FEAST OF THE INAUGURATION OF THE CHURCH OF NORTH INDIA, 1970

THE FEAST OF JENNETTE THRELFALL, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/29/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-the-fourth-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Extravagance of God and the Irrepressible Kingdom of God   1 comment

Garlic Mustard Plant Invasion

Above:  Garlic Mustard Plant Invasion

Photographer = Steve Hillebrand, United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world

through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.

Help us to hear your word and obey it,

and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives,

through 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 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 13:17-27

Psalm 39

Luke 13:18-21

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Numbers 13:17-27 and Luke 13:18-21 speak of the extravagant generosity of God.

Canaan, the Promised Land, is the bountiful territory overflowing with milk and honey in Numbers 13.  One finds similarly wonderful descriptions of the promise of the Jewish homeland after God has ended the Babylonian Exile later in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Those were dashed hopes, as the narrative of the Old Testament indicates, but the hope for a better future free from deprivation and foreign occupation continues to inspire people living in difficult circumstances.

Unfortunately, the ubiquitous slave mentality and unreasoning fear of the Canaanites led many Israelites to oppose entering Canaan.  Many, according to Numbers 14:3, regretted ever having left Egypt, where they were slaves but at least the leftovers were nice.  God punished the generation which had left Egypt, the Book of Numbers tells us, by granting them their wish not to enter Canaan.  At least God was merciful enough to refrain from striking them dead or sending them back to Egypt.

The generosity–grace–of God–demands a faithful response.  What will we do with grace?  Will we even accept it and its accompanying responsibilities?  Human life is transient, as the author of Psalm 39 understood well, but it does offer many opportunities to function as an agent of God to others.

Cedar of Lebanon

Above:  A Cedar of Lebanon, 1898

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-06183

Luke 13:18-21 provides two brief parables illustrating the irrepressible nature of the Kingdom of God.  In the first parable (verses 18 and 19) the Kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed, the small beginning of a large, if not noble, mustard plant–a large shrub, really.  A mustard plant, which can grow to be as large as twelve feet tall, offers shelter to a variety of birds.  Implicit in the Lukan version of the parable is that Gentiles are welcome in the Kingdom of God.  The parable shocks by not invoking the image of a mighty, impressive cedar of Lebanon.  Such imagery would indicate a mature plant.  The imagery of a mustard plant, however, promises continued growth.  The Kingdom of God is present among us, but not fully; there is more to come.

Then again [Jesus] said,

“What can I say the kingdom of God is like?  It is like the yeast which a woman took and covered up in three measures of flour until the whole had risen.”

–Luke 13:20-21, J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972)

The second parable is that of yeast which a woman hides in three measures (fifty pounds) of flour.  Most contemporary translations I consulted render a certain Greek word as “mixed,” but the proper meaning is “hid.”  The Revised Standard Version (1946, 1952, and 1971), the Revised Standard Version–Catholic Edition (1965), the Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002), and the New American Standard Bible (1971 and 1995) render that word properly as “hid.”  The 1958 and 1972 editions of The New Testament in Modern English (J. B. Phillips) use “covered up,” which makes the same point.  The woman in the parable seeks to conceal the yeast by hiding it in flour, but the yeast permeates the flour instead.  The parable contains the element of hyperbole, for baking 50 pounds of flour, enough to feed 150 people, at one time, is perhaps improbable.  The hyperbole points to the extravagance of God and the irrepressible nature of the Kingdom of God.

Nobody among mortals can conceal or destroy the Kingdom of God.  That lesson comforts me.  Secularization of society and religious persecution are powerless to conceal or destroy the Kingdom of God, which is like yeast pervading the whole.  The blood of the martyrs waters the church, which has, in certain times and at certain places, gone underground yet remained alive.  The lesson here is about what God does, often despite what certain people do.  God is sovereign.  We can accept or reject that reality, but we can never change it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 19, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN HERMANN SCHEIN, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF F. BLAND TUCKER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/devotion-for-wednesday-after-the-third-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Spiritual Responsibility   1 comment

Zedekiah

Above:  King Zedekiah of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world

through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.

Help us to hear your word and obey it,

and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives,

through 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 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 11:1-17 (Monday)

Ezekiel 17:1-10 (Tuesday)

Psalm 39 (Both Days)

Romans 2:1-11 (Monday)

Romans 2:12-16 (Tuesday)

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You chastise mortals in punishment for sin,

consuming like a moth what is dear to them;

surely everyone is a mere breath.

–Psalm 39:11, The Book of Worship of North India (1995)

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The judgment of God is righteous, the readings for these days tell us.

Ezekiel 17:1-10 requires explanation, for it uses metaphorical language.  The references involving the cedar, the vine, and the eagles refer to international relations from 598 to 588 B.C.E.  In verses 3-6 the meaning is that King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire had taken many prominent people of Judah, including King Jehoiachin (reigned in 597 B.C.E.), into exile, after which King Zedekiah (reigned 597-586 B.C.E.), who was initially loyal to Nebuchadnezzar II, came to the throne of Judah.  The eagle in verses 7-8 is the Pharaoh of Egypt, to whom Zedekiah transferred his loyalty.  The pericope concludes that the survival of Zedekiah and Judah is impossible.

Part of the background of the assigned passage from Ezekiel is the position that pursuing those alliances with dangerous foreign leaders was not only foolish but faithless.  Obey and trust in God instead, prophets said.  Theological interpretation in the context of the Babylonian Exile reinforced that position.  The people and bad kings of Judah reaped what they sowed, the final versions of certain books of the Hebrew Bible argued.  (There were, of course, good kings of Judah.)

God is angry with Judah in Jeremiah 11:1-17.  The people, having generally (with some notable exceptions) refused to obey the covenant with God, will suffer the punishments for noncompliance which the covenant contains.  Among the accusations is rampant idolatry.

The first word of Romans 2 is “therefore,” which leads me back into chapter 1.  The essence of Romans 1 is that Gentiles have no excuse for persistent unrighteousness, including idolatry.  Divine punishment for them for these offenses is therefore justified.  Then, in Romans 2, St. Paul the Apostle tells his Jewish audience not to be spiritually complacent.

The very fact that the Jew agrees so entirely with Paul’s charge against the Gentile shows that he himself is without excuse and subject to the wrath of God.

–Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans (1944); Translated by Carl C. Rasmussen (Philadelphia, PA:  Muhlenberg Press, 1949), page 113

Furthermore, some Gentiles have the law of God inscribed on their hearts, when even some Jews do not.  Doing is better than merely hearing, according to the Apostle.

Three thoughts come to my mind at this point.  The first is that St. Paul was correct.  He echoed Jeremiah 31:31f (the inner law), but expanded the text to include Gentiles.  St. Paul also sounded much like Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5.

Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  For as you judge others, so will yourselves be judged, and whatever measure you deal out will be dealt to you.

–Matthew 7:1-2, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The Gospel of Matthew did not exist during St. Paul’s lifetime, but the Apostle did have some familiarity with oral traditions and perhaps some written sayings of Jesus, from which the author of the Gospel of Matthew drew.

My second thought is that St. Paul’s challenge to question one’s assumptions and prejudices is timeless.  Who are those we define as spiritual outsiders?  Some of them might be closer to God than we are, and we might not be as close to God as we think we are.

My final thought in this collection is that St. Paul sounds very much like the perhaps later Letter of James.

Exhibit A:

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

–Romans 2:13, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The emphasis here is on active faith.  The Pauline definition of faith was confidence, in the absence of evidence for or against, which leads to actions.  Thus, later in the epistle, St. Paul argued:

Therefore since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ….

–Romans 5:1, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Romans 2:13 and 5:1 stand as portions of a unified, steadily building case in a theological treatise.

Exhibit B:

What good is it, my friends, for someone to say he has faith when his actions do nothing to show it?  Can faith save him?…So with faith; if it does not lead to action, it is by itself a lifeless thing.

–James 2:14, 17, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Exhibit C:

Do you have to be told, you fool, that faith divorced from action is futile?…You see then it is by action and not by faith alone that a man is justified.

–James 2:20, 24, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Faith, in the Letter of James, is intellectual, hence the necessity of pairing it with deeds.  On the surface the theologies of justification in the Letter of James and the Letter to the Romans might seem mutually contradictory, but they are not.  No, they arrive at the same point from different destinations.

The judgment of God exists alongside divine mercy.  The balance of the two factor resides solely in the purview of God.  Our actions influence divine judgment and mercy in our cases, however.  One can find that teaching in several places in the Bible, including Ezekiel 18, Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 2:6f, and James 2:8f.  Yes, the legacies of ancestors influence us, but our spiritual responsibility for ourselves remains intact.  May we exercise it properly.

Related to one’s spiritual responsibility for oneself is one’s spiritual responsibility for others, as in Romans 2:17-24.  That, however, is a topic for another post.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 19, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN HERMANN SCHEIN, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF F. BLAND TUCKER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-the-third-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Of Grapes and Fruit   1 comment

Watchtower in Vineyard

Above:  A Watchtower in a Vineyard, 1898

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-06021

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The Collect:

Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world

through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.

Help us to hear your word and obey it,

and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives,

through 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 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 5:1-7

Psalm 63:1-8

Luke 6:43-45

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O God, you are my God, I seek you,

my soul thirst for you; my flesh faints for you,

as in a dry and weary land where there is not water.

–Psalm 63:1, The Book of Worship of the Church of North India (1995)

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That is what a good grape from Isaiah 5:1-7 and a good fruit from Luke 6:43-45 would say.  Unfortunately, the grapes are wild and the fruits are bad in those readings.

The excellent translation of Isaiah 5:7 from TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985), attempting to bring the effect of the Hebrew wordplay into English, rings inside my head:

For the vineyard of the LORD of Hosts

Is the House of Israel,

And the seedlings He lovingly tended

Are the men of Judah.

And He hoped for justice,

But beheld, injustice;

For equity,

But behold, iniquity!

Social justice in the context of community, with responsibility of people to and for each other, and with all people accountable to God, is an essential part of the Law of Moses.  I wonder, in fact, why I did not learn this growing up in the church–in a series of parsonages, actually.  I had to learn this truth from a book after joining a Historical Jesus reading group in Athens, Georgia.  In fact, much of my adult spiritual pilgrimage has consisted of abandoning what I learned as a child, for most of it was either wrong or woefully incomplete.

God commands us to live in love, to love each other as we love ourselves.  Love of this variety leaves no room for any form of prejudice or animosity, or for any other obstacle to practicing the Golden Rule.  This is a lesson I understand more intellectually than viscerally, but I continue to struggle with it.  This is progress, at least, in my effort to cooperate with God to be a good grape and a good fruit.

May you, O reader, strive to be a good grape and a good fruit also.  May you succeed, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 19, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN HERMANN SCHEIN, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF F. BLAND TUCKER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/devotion-for-saturday-before-the-third-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Posted November 19, 2015 by neatnik2009 in Isaiah 5, Luke 6, Psalm 63

Tagged with , ,

Clinging to God   1 comment

St. Michael the Archangel Icon--Andrei Rublev

Above:  Icon of St. Michael the Archangel, by Andrei Rublev

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world

through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.

Help us to hear your word and obey it,

and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives,

through 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 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Daniel 12:1-4

Psalm 63:1-8

Revelation 3:1-6

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My soul clings to you;

your right hand upholds me.

–Psalm 63:8, The Book of Worship of the Church of North India (1995)

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The reading from Daniel 12 follows from chapter 11, the contents of which are crucial to grasp if one is to understand the assigned reading.  The narrative, an apocalypse, concerns the end of the reign and life of the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164 B.C.E.), the bete noire of 1 Maccabees 1-6, 2 Maccabees 4-9, and the entirety of 4 Maccabees.  Antiochus IV Epiphanes was also the despoiler of the Second Temple and the man who ordered the martyrdom of many observant Jews.  In Daniel 11 the monarch, the notorious blasphemer, dies.  After that, in chapter 12, St. Michael the Archangel appears and the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment ensue.  There will be justice for the martyrs after all, the text says.

The issue of God’s justice for the persecuted faithful occupies much of the Revelation to John.  Today’s reading from that apocalypse is the message to the church at Sardis, a congregation whose actual spiritual state belies its reputation for being alive.  Repent and return to a vibrant life of righteousness, the message says.  That sounds much like a message applicable to some congregations I have known, especially during my childhood.

Clinging to God can be difficult.  During the best of times doing so might injure one’s pride, especially if one imagines oneself to be self-sufficient.  And during the worst of times one might blame God for one’s predicament.  During the other times mere spiritual laziness might be another impediment.  Nevertheless, God calls us constantly to lives–individually and collectively–of vibrant righteousness.  May we love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves.  May we help others the best ways we can.  May we heed the Hebrew prophetic call to work for social justice.  May we, by grace, leave our communities, friends, acquaintances, families, and world better than we found them.  Whenever we do so, we do it for Jesus, whom we follow.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 18, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHN STONE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR TOZER RUSSELL, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILDA OF WHITBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS

THE FEAST OF JANE ELIZA(BETH) LEESON, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/devotion-for-friday-before-the-third-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Resisting the Darkness with Light   1 comment

Candle Flame and Reflection

Above:  Candle Flame and Reflection

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world

through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.

Help us to hear your word and obey it,

and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives,

through 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 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Daniel 3:19-30

Psalm 63:1-8

Revelation 2:8-11

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O God, you are my God, I seek you,

my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you,

as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,

beholding your power and glory.

Because your steadfast love is better than life,

my lips will praise you.

So I will bless you as long as I live;

I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,

and my mouth praises you with joyful lips

when I think of you on my bed,

and meditate on you in the watches of the night;

for you have been my help,

and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.

My soul clings to you;

your right hand upholds me.

–Psalm 63:1-8, The Book of Worship of the Church of North India (1995)

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Psalm 63:1-8 is the happy pericope for this day.  The author praises God for divine, steadfast love and provisions.  The other readings encourage readers and listeners to trust in God during extremely trying times.  That is a positive and timeless message, but each of the other pericopes presents its own difficulties.

The story from Daniel 3 is ahistorical.  That fact presents no problem for me, for I am neither a fundamentalist nor an evangelical.  No, my difficulty with the account is that the monarch threatens anyone who blasphemes YHWH with death by dismemberment.  I oppose blasphemy, but temporal punishment for it is something I refuse to support.  Besides, one person’s religious expression is another person’s idea of blasphemy.  I know of cases of (Christian) religious expression in foreign (majority Muslim) countries leading to charges of blasphemy and sometimes even executions (martyrdoms).  Religious toleration is a virtue–one much of the Bible frowns upon severely.

The pericope from Revelation 2 comes from an intra-Jewish dispute.  Non-Christian Jews were making life very difficult for Christian Jews at Smyrna.  The Christian invective of “synagogue of Satan” (verse 9) is still difficult to digest, even with knowledge of the historical contexts.  Passages such as these have become fodder for nearly two millennia of Christian Anti-Semitism, one of the great sins of the Church.

As we who call ourselves follow Jesus, may we cling to him during all times–the good, the bad, and the in-between.  And may we eschew hatred, resentment, and violence toward those who oppose us.  Christ taught us to bless our persecutors, to fight hatred with love and darkness with light.  This is difficult, of course, but it is possible by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 18, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHN STONE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR TOZER RUSSELL, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILDA OF WHITBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS

THE FEAST OF JANE ELIZA(BETH) LEESON, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/devotion-for-thursday-before-the-third-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Of Divine Mercy, Divine Judgment, the Narrow Door, and the Closed Door   1 comment

SKD405728 Doorway in Meissen, 1827 (oil on canvas) by Friedrich, Caspar David (1774-1840); Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden, Germany; (add.info.: Toreingang in Meissen;); © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden; German,  out of copyright

SKD405728 Doorway in Meissen, 1827 (oil on canvas) by Friedrich, Caspar David (1774-1840); Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden, Germany; (add.info.: Toreingang in Meissen;); © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden; German, out of copyright

Above:  Doorway in Meissen (1827), by Caspar David Friedrich

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross

you promise everlasting life to the world.

Gather all peoples into your arms, and shelter us with your mercy,

that we may rejoice in the life we share in your Son,

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 27

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Chronicles 20:1-22

Psalm 105:1-15 [16-41] 42

Luke 13:22-31

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Glory in God’s holy name;

let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

Search for the LORD and the strength of the LORD;

continually seek the face of God.

–Psalm 105:3-4, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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The three assigned readings for this day teach us to turn toward God at all times–in good times, in bad times, and in times between those two poles.  If we have turned away from God, we need to turn back toward God–to repent.  This is still the time of God’s mercy, as our Mennonite brothers and sisters in faith say.  Eventually, however, the narrow door of salvation will become the closed door outside of which will be many frantic and disappointed people who had understood themselves to be spiritual insiders.

The concept of God in hellfire-and-damnation theology terrifies me and does not satisfy me.  Likewise, the teddy-bear God of Universalism seems insufficient to me.  Somewhere in the middle is a balanced God concept which takes into account both judgment and extravagant mercy.  I do not pretend to know the proper balance of judgment and mercy, but I affirm the reality of both factors and reject excessive emphasis on either one to the exclusion or improper minimization of the other.  God, to my understanding, is frequently more merciful than many human beings.  King David was correct:

I am in great distress; let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great;  but let me not fall into human hands.

–2 Samuel 24:14, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The context of that passage is divine anger over a military census in the Kingdom of Israel.  Even in the midst of a plague in the realm, the author of that portion of 2 Samuel tells us, David understood God to be more merciful than many people.

I disagree with the theology of 2 Samuel 24 as a whole, for I question understanding a plague affecting innocents as divine punishment for a census they did not order.  God seems to have bad aim in that chapter.  Should not God have punished David, who commanded that the census take place, instead?  Nevertheless, the verse I have quoted stands as a testimony to divine mercy amid divine judgment.  The theology of 2 Samuel 24:14 is impeccable.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 17, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN CHRISTIAN TILL, U.S. MORAVIAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND PIANO BUILDER; AND HIS SON, JACOB CHRISTIAN TILL, U.S. MORAVIAN PIANO BUILDER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/17/devotion-for-wednesday-after-the-second-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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