Archive for August 2016

Liberation in God   1 comment

Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee

Above:  Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, by Ludolf Bakhuizen

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 14:1-24

Psalm 110

Matthew 8:14-34 or Mark 5:1-20

Hebrews 7:1-28

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The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind,

“You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

–Psalm 110:4, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Psalm 110 is a text that speaks of divine assurance of victory for a priest-king.  “Priest-king” is a description that applies to the mysterious Melchizedek, King of (Jeru)Salem, perhaps a Gentile follower of YHWH.  The meaning of Psalm 110 is vague and the text of Genesis 14 concerning Melchizedek is ambiguous, but the political use of the Melchizedek story, centuries later was clear.  David and his descendants are worthy to perform certain priestly roles, subsequent royal publicity experts claimed.

The use of certain passages of scripture to convince people to obey their leaders is an old strategy.  My bias in this question is to resist the use of scripture to control people.  No, I argue, following God is about liberation–to follow God and to build up communities and other groups of people.  The truth of God is frequently contrary to the message of many human authority figures.  I think also of Samuel’s warning about the dangers of monarchy in 1 Samuel 8:10-18.

Jesus liberates us to love others as we love ourselves.  He frees to build up the whole, not seek selfish gains and hurt others in the short, medium, and long terms, as well as ourselves in the long run.  Jesus liberates us to take up a cross and follow him.  He frees us to glorify and enjoy God forever.  Jesus invites us to die–to self, at least–and perhaps, literally, for him.  Jesus liberates us to become our best selves in God.

How do we respond to Jesus?  Do we seek to honor him one way or another?  Or do we make excuses for why we refuse to follow him?  Perhaps we find Jesus threatening, maybe to our livelihood, and/or our identity (regarding who and what we are not, rather than who and what we are) and demand that he leave us alone.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 31, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF KARL OTTO EBERHARDT, GERMAN MORAVIAN ORGANIST, MUSIC EDUCATOR, AND COMPOSER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/devotion-for-the-first-sunday-of-christmas-year-d/

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Deciding or Refusing to Repent   1 comment

Adoration of the Shepherds, by Mikael Toppelius

Above:  The Adoration of the Shepherds, by Mikael Toppelius

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Isaiah 6:(8) 9-13 or Jeremiah 10:1-16 (17-25)

Psalm 35 or 94

John 12:17-19, 37-50

Romans 11:2b-28 (29-32) 33-36

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You have seen, O LORD, do not be silent!

O Lord, do not be far from me!

–Psalm 35:22, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Happy are those whom you discipline, O LORD,

and whom you touch out of your law,

giving them respite from days of trouble,

until a pit is dug for the wicked.

For the Lord will not forsake his people;

he will not abandon his heritage;

for justice will return to the righteous,

and all the upright in heart will follow it.

–Psalm 94:12-15, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Some of the readings for this occasion seem to indicate that God has, at various times, designated entire populations and refused to permit them to repent of their sins.  This reading is at odds with the theology of unlimited atonement (by Jesus, via his death and resurrection), which ends a process begun by the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as Jesus of Nazareth.  My understanding is that (A) all of us are sinners, (B) God desires all sinners to repent, and (C) many sinners simply refuse to repent.  In Judaism one can find an interpretation of the lection from Isaiah that insists that God predicted that many people would not understand and did not desire them to fail to understand.  In this reading First Isaiah’s mission was to help people to repent, not to prevent it.  This makes sense to me.

Why might one not repent?  One might identify a set of reasons, but perhaps the most basic reason is that one must recognize something as an error before one seeks to correct it.  Spiritual blindness is a major problem from which all people suffer.  We can, by grace, see what occupies our blind spots.  Assuming that we do this, do we want to change?  Maybe we think that necessary change is pointless or too difficult.  Or perhaps we are simply afraid to take action by trusting in God and venturing into unknown (to us) spiritual territory.  Either way, one does not repent.

Whoever loves himself or herself more than God is lost, we read in John 12.  To be a Christian is to follow Jesus, who went to a cross then a tomb, which he occupied only briefly.

To think this much about Good Friday and Easter Sunday on Christmas Day might seem odd, but it is theologically correct.  The recognition of this reality is hardly new.  Indeed, Johann Sebastian Bach incorporated the Passion Chorale tune into his Christmas Oratorio.

Grace is free to all, fortunately.  Yet many will not accept it and the demands accompanying it.  Each of us has a responsibility to say “yes” to God, whose grace is always free and never cheap.  Each of us has a responsibility to love his or her neighbors as he or she loves himself or herself.  Doing so will, for different people, lead to different ends in this life, and translate into action in a variety of ways, depending on circumstances.  The principle is constant, however.  Jesus, who came to us first as a baby, demands nothing less than taking up one’s cross and following him.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 30, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRIETTE LUISE VON HAYN, GERMAN MORAVIAN HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/devotion-for-christmas-day-year-d/

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The Universal and Timeless Love of God   1 comment

Micah

Above:  Icon of the Prophet Micah

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Ecclesiastes 7:15-29 or Micah 7:1-20

Psalm 44

Matthew 10:9-23 or Luke 12:1-12

Romans 3:1-22a

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Rouse yourself!  Why do you sleep, O Lord?

Awake, do not cast us off forever!

Why do you hide your face?

Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?

For we sink down to the dust;

our bodies cling to the ground.

Rise up, come to our help.

Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.

–Psalm 44:23-26, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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The readings for this occasion present a realistic appraisal of the world, not only in antiquity or today, but during all the times in between.  Certain powerful empires conquer weaker neighbors.  Wicked people flourish.  Good people perish.  Persecution of people of God occurs.  Nevertheless, one should avoid committing the theological error of assuming or otherwise concluding that the existence of God, of whom caring is an essential property, precludes the reality of suffering for many righteous people.  At this point one might point to the Book of Job and the crucifixion of Jesus as Exhibits A and B in that case.

Although suffering (for righteousness, sin, and simply having a pulse) occurs, that fact does not negate or contradict the mercy of God.  That mercy is available regardless of ethnic and cultural factors and boundaries.  That love is evident in the form of baby Jesus, born into a place and time at which his life was in danger.  That love is and always has been evident in many ways.  That love is worth pondering every day, but especially on Christmas Day.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 23, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MARTIN DE PORRES AND JUAN MACIAS, HUMANITARIANS AND DOMINICAN LAY BROTHERS; SAINT ROSE OF LIMA, HUMANITARIAN AND DOMINICAN SISTER; AND SAINT TURIBIUS OF MOGROVEJO, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF LIMA

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

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/08/23/devotion-for-christmas-morning-year-d/

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In Jesus’s Name   1 comment

Madonna and Child

Above:  Icon of Mary and Jesus

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Ecclesiastes 5:1-20 or 7:1-14 or Ezekiel 33:23-33

Psalm 21

Philippians 3:1-4a; 4:10-21 or James 1:17-27

Matthew 12:22-50 or Luke 11:14-54

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Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength!

We will sing and praise your power.

–Psalm 21:13, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Sincere praise of God is a virtue and insincere spiritual speech is an affront to God.  Often such insincere speech, externally pious, disguises willful and/or institutionalized social injustice, especially that of the economic variety.  The mercy and judgment of God coexist.  Often we prefer to hear of the mercy yet not of the judgment.  That is at least as bad an error as committing the opposite fallacy.

That is a concise summary of several of the elements of the lections for Christmas Eve (Year D).  One might recognize my summary as being accurate while wondering what it has to do with Christmas Eve, however.  That is a legitimate question.  Timothy Matthew Slemmons, in Year D (2012), acknowledges the challenge of selecting germane and neglected texts for December 24 and 25.  He explains that his suggested readings contain relevant themes, such as the universality of sin.

The world that the Second Person of the Trinity, incarnated as Jesus, entered was dangerous and corrupt.  That description still applies to the world, does it not?  Jesus continues to come to us in the guise of the poor, the lame, the exploited, the young, the middle-aged, and the elderly.  Do we content ourselves with pious platitudes while we do little or nothing to help them (as we are able, of course) and/or to justify systems that harm them?  And, as we enjoy hearing about divine mercy, do we give proper attention to God’s judgment on those who exploit the vulnerable?

The celebration of the birth of Jesus, linked to his death and resurrection, is more than a time to celebrate.  It is also an occasion for us to commit or recommit ourselves to living according to the incarnational principle.  God is present all around us intangibly in tangible elements of creation.  These tangible elements include the defenseless and the exploited.  May we commit or recommit ourselves to recognizing the image of God in them and to acting accordingly, in Jesus’s name.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 22, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JACK LAYTON, CANADIAN ACTIVIST AND FEDERAL LEADER OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY

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/2016/08/22/devotion-for-christmas-eve-year-d/

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To Glorify and Enjoy God   1 comment

St. John the Baptist Preaching

Above:  St. John the Baptist Preaching, by Mattia Preti

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Numbers 14:1-25

Psalm 144

John 3:22-38

Hebrews 5:11-6:20

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Happy are the people to whom such blessings falls;

happy are the people whose God is the LORD.

–Psalm 144:15, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Timothy Matthew Slemmons, in creating his proposed Year D, has grouped stories of rebellion against God and cautions against opposing God together in Advent.  It is a useful tactic, for, as much as one might know something, reminders prove helpful.

In Hebrews we read of the reality of apostasy (falling away from God) and the imperative of not doing so.  It is a passage with which those whose theology precludes the possibility of apostasy must contend.  I, as one raised a United Methodist and, as of a few years ago, converted to affirming Single Predestination, know much about the theology of free will in relation to salvation.  On a lighter note, I also recall an old joke about Methodists:  Not only do they believe in falling from grace, but they practice it often.  (If one cannot be religious and have a well-developed sense of humor, one has a major problem.)  Although I like Methodism in general (more so than certain regional variations of it), I cannot be intellectually honest and return to it, given Methodist theology regarding the denial of Single Predestination.

As Hebrews 6:19-20 tells us, the faithfulness of God is the anchor of our souls, and Jesus is a forerunner on our behalf.  In John 3:22-38 we read of his forerunner, St. John the Baptist, who pointed to Jesus, not to himself.  I have no doubt that

He must grow greater; I must become less.

–John 3:30, The Revised English Bible (1989),

words attributed to St. John the Baptist, are not historical.  Neither do I doubt their theological truth.  St. John the Baptist probably said something to the effect of that sentence, I argue.  I also insist that those words apply to all of us in the human race.  Jesus must grow greater; each of us must become less.  To act according to the ethos of glorifying oneself might lead to short-term gain, but it also leads to negative consequences for oneself in the long term and for others in the short, medium, and long terms.

The call of God entails the spiritual vocation of humility, or, in simple terms, of being down to earth.  The highest and chief end of man, the Westminster Catechisms teach us correctly, is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.  To arrive at that point one must trust in and follow God, whom we ought not to forget or neglect at any time, but especially in December, in the immediate temporal proximity of the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 22, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JACK LAYTON, CANADIAN ACTIVIST AND FEDERAL LEADER OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY

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/2016/08/22/devotion-for-the-fourth-sunday-of-advent-year-d/

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The Universality of God, Part II   1 comment

Candle

Above:  A Candle

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Joshua 23:1-16

Psalm 81:(1) 2-9 (10-16) or Psalm 95

Luke 3:23-38 or Matthew 1:1-17

Hebrews 4:1-11 (12-16)

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In distress you called, and I rescued you;

I answered you in the secret place of thunder;

I tested you at the waters of Meribah.

–Psalm 81:7, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Do not harden your hears, as at Meribah,

as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

when your ancestors tested me,

and put me to the proof though they had seen my work.

–Psalm 95:8-9, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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The Deuteronomistic account of the farewell speech of Joshua son of Nun contains reminders to be faithful to God and not to emulate the pagan neighboring ethnic groups.  One may assume safely that at least part of the text is a subsequent invention meant to teach then-contemporary Jews to obey the Law of Moses, unlike many of their ancestors, including many who lived and died after the time of Joshua.  The theme of fidelity to God recurs in Hebrews 4, which reminds us that God sees everything we do.

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid:  Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and magnify your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–The Collect for Purity, in The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 355

The two options for Gospel readings are mutually inconsistent genealogies of Jesus.  Matthew 1, following Jewish practice, divides the past into periods of 14–in this case, 14 generations–14 being the numerical value of “David” in Hebrew.  This version of the family tree begins with Abraham and ends with Jesus, thereby setting his story in the context of God’s acts in history and culminating with the Incarnation.  This genealogy lists only four women, two of whom were foreigners and three of whom were the subjects of gossip regarding their sex lives.  These facts establish an inclusive tone in the text.

The genealogy in Luke 3 starts with Jesus and works backward to the mythical Adam.  The fact that the family tree according to the Gospel of Luke goes back past Abraham (the limits of Judaism, which are porous in the genealogy in Matthew 1) makes the Lukan version more inclusive than its counterpart in Matthew.  Jesus has kinship with all people–Jews and Gentiles–it teaches.  That is consistent with the fact that the initial audience for the Gospel of Luke was Gentile.

The universality of God is a recurring theme in the Bible.  The light of God is for all people, although many will reject it at any given time.  The neglect that light is a grave error, one which carries with it many negative consequences, both temporal and otherwise.  To write off people and populations is another error.  Salvation is of the Jews.  From them the light of Christ shines upon we Gentiles.  Thanks be to God!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 21, 2016 COMMON ERA

PROPER 16:  THE FOURTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR C

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/2016/08/21/devotion-for-the-third-sunday-of-advent-year-d/

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Pointing to God, Not Ourselves   1 comment

Moses Striking the Rock in Horeb

Above:  Moses Strikes the Rock in Horeb, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Numbers 12:1-16 or 20:1-13 (14-21) 22-29

Psalm 106:(1) 7-18, 24-18 (43-48) or Psalm 95

Luke 1:(57) 58-67 (68-79) 80

Hebrews 3:1-19

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Many times he delivered them,

but they were rebellious in their purposes,

and were brought low through their iniquity.

Nevertheless he regarded their distress

when he heard their cry.

–Psalm 106:43-44, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,

as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

when your ancestors tested me,

and put me to the proof, though you had seen my work.

–Psalm 95:8-9, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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In most of the readings for this day we read of grumbling against God and/or Moses despite God’s proven track record, frequently in the presence of those who go on to grumble.  Miriam and Aaron question the authority of Moses in Numbers 12. Miriam becomes ritually unclean because of this (Do not question Moses!), but her brother intercedes for her.  People witness then seem to forget God’s mighty acts in Psalms 95 and 106, as well as in Hebrews 3.  And, in Numbers 20, Moses disobeys instructions from God.  He is supposed to speak to a rock to make water come out of it, but he strikes it instead.

By word and act Moses is thus appropriating to himself an act of God.  In doing this he is undoing the message that God and Moses himself have been conveying to the to the people up to this point.  The people have continuously directed their attention to Moses instead of to God….Until this episode Moses has repeatedly told the people, “It is not from my own heart,” and “You are congregating against YHWH,” but now his words and actions confirm the people’s own perception.

–Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah with a New English Translation and the Hebrew Text (2001), page 495

Moses was generally trustworthy in the sight of God, per the positive assessment of him in Hebrews 3.  At Meribah he gave into human weakness.  All of us have caved into our own weaknesses on multiple occasions, have we not?  Have we not, for example, sought our own glory instead of that of God?  Have we not yielded to the temptation to be spectacular, which Henri J. M. Nouwen identified in The Way of the Heart (1981) as one of Satan’s temptations of Jesus in Luke 4 and Matthew 4?   If we have lived long enough, yes, we have.

And you, my child, will be called Prophet of the Most High,

for you will be the Lord’s forerunner to prepare his way

and lead his people to a knowledge of salvation

through the forgiveness of sins:

for in the tender compassion of our God

the dawn of heaven will break upon us,

to shine on those who live in darkness, under the shadow of death,

and to guide our feet in the way of peace.

–St. Zechariah in Luke 1:76-79, The Revised English Bible (1989)

St. John the Baptist grew up and became one who admitted the truth that he was not the Messiah (Luke 3:15-17 and Mark 1:7-8).  He pointed to cousin Jesus instead (Matthew 3:13-14 and John 3:25-36).

The spiritual vocations of Christians vary in details, but the common threads run through those calls from God.  We who call ourselves Christians have, for example, a responsibility to glorify God, not ourselves, and to point to Jesus.  We also have an obligation to lead lives defined by gratitude to God, not rebellion against God.  We can succeed, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 20, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN BAJUS, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/08/20/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-of-advent-year-d/

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