Archive for August 2017

Best Wishes for the New Year II   Leave a comment

Above:  Happy New Year Lithograph (1876), by Currier & Ives

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-pga-09060

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FOR NEW YEAR’S DAY, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN  THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Eternal God, always the same,

Grant us so to pass through this coming year with faithful hearts

that we may be able in all things to please you;  through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965)

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Ecclesiastes 11:6-9; 12:13

Psalm 27

Revelation 21:1-6a

Luke 9:57-62

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The readings from Ecclesiastes and Luke say, as Ecclesiastes 12:13 states succinctly,

Revere God and observe His commandments!

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

In the case of Luke 9:57-62 one does well to recall that Jesus was en route to Jerusalem to die.  It makes sense, then, that he made no excuses and accepted none either.

Psalm 27 encourages confidence in God, even in the midst of many enemies.  This is well-placed trust, for God is the one whose new world order of righteousness (as in Revelation 21) does not depend on human actions to come to fruition.  We are still waiting, of course, but we can also have confidence in God.

These themes of obedience and confidence come together nicely for New Year’s Day, a traditional time for new beginnings.  It is also a traditional time to make quickly abandoned and broken resolutions.  My prayer for all people is that God’s best for them may be their reality.  Regardless of the status of your plans, O reader, to do better in some way–diet, career, spiritual development, et cetera, may the new year find you in a continual state of enjoying God’s best for you as your reality.  May you trust in God more than you do already and respond more faithfully to God than you do already.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 29, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE BEHEADING OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

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A Light to the Nations IV   Leave a comment

Above:  A Map of the World, 1726

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-62077

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FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN  THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Eternal God, who by the birth of your beloved Son Jesus Christ gave yourself to humankind,

Grant that, being born in our hearts, he may save us from all our sins,

and restore within us the image and likeness of our creator,

to whom be everlasting praise and glory, for ever and ever.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965)

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Isaiah 42:1-9

Psalm 2

1 John 4:9-16

John 1:1-14

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The most probable identity of the servant of God in Isaiah 42:1-9 is the people of Israel themselves.  They, the Chosen People, have the responsibility to be a light to the nations, or Gentiles.  This is a light the subjects of Psalm 2 oppose; the light of God is not a priority for them.  Another proposed identity for the servant in Isaiah 42 is the Messiah.  This fits well with John 1:1-14 and 1 John 4:9-16.  We can also discern from 1 John 4 that faithful Gentiles get to share with Jews and the Messiah in being a light to the nations.

The light we are supposed to share is one that places the spotlight on God, not on ourselves.  As the Westminster Catechisms state, man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  Discipleship entails humility before God.  May we shed light on God humbly, unabashedly, and dutifully, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 29, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE BEHEADING OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

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Posted August 29, 2017 by neatnik2009 in 1 John 4, Isaiah 42, John 1, Psalm 2

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The Scandal of Grace at Christmas   1 comment

Above:  Angels Announcing Christ’s Birth to the Shepherds, by Govert Flinck

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR CHRISTMAS DAY, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN  THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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God, you make us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ.

Grant that we may joyfully receive him as our Redeemer,

so we may with sure confidence behold him when comes to be our judge,

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

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 76

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Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 (Protestant)/Isaiah 9:1, 5-6 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Psalm 5

Galatians 4:1-7

Luke 2:1-20

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The setting of Luke 2 is troublesome within itself.  There was no such imperial census, we know from historical records, but there was a regional census in Judea (not in the Galilee) in 6 and 7 C.E., written records tell us.  Father Raymond E. Brown, in his magisterial Introduction to the New Testament, states that Luke’s account gets historical details wrong.  Brown also argues that Luke-Acts speaks of a divine plan set inside the Roman Empire.  The text of Luke-Acts contextualizes the birth of Jesus in the reign of the Emperor Augustus (Luke 2) and concludes with the arrival of St. Paul the Apostle in Rome (Acts 28).  Brown writes of the song of the angels to the shepherds.  That song, he insists, is similar to an imperial proclamation in an empire that labeled Augustus the savior of the world.  The point is plain:  Christ is greater than Augustus.

In Psalm 5 the beleaguered author (allegedly David) seeks divine deliverance from his enemies.  He, referring to the Temple, writes,

But I can enter your house

because of your great love.

–Verse 8a, The New American Bible

In Christ we have the Temple in the flesh.  This is the Temple that became flesh out of great love.

The reading from Isaiah 9 is a description of the ideal Davidic king.  One probably thinks most intensely about the ideal ruler when one’s ruler falls far short of the ideal and does not try to live up to that ideal.  Otherwise one might extol the virtues of one’s ruler instead.  In this case the ideal Davidic king, according to the standard, traditional English-language translations is, as The New Revised Standard Version (1989) states:

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

–Verse 6c

Perhaps the familiar language obscures the meaning of the Hebrew text.  Consider then, O reader, the translation from TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985):

The Mighty God is planning grace;

The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler.

–Verse 5c

This version cuts to the chase nicely; God is planning grace.  We find another example of that grace in Galatians 3 and 4.  At the end of Galatians 3 we read in a glorious and duly famous passage that, through Jesus, Gentile believers join the ranks of Jews as “sons of God,” a term that indicates being the Chosen People, as in Deuteronomy 14:1-2.  With grace, such as that which makes people “sons of God,” also comes responsibility to shed the light of God brightly.  That is fair.  Grace is free yet certainly not cheap, for it requires much of its recipients.  That is fair.

Traditional categories, such as Jews, Greeks, slaves, free people, males, and females do not divide “sons of God,” all of whom are heirs of God.  That is wonderful news!  Why, then, do so many of us maintain, magnify, and create categories for the purpose of defining ourselves as the in-crowd and other “sons of God” as outsiders?  All who do so demonstrate that they prefer psychological comfort to the scandal of grace.

Grace is scandalous.  By means of it we receive more than we deserve; so do people we dislike strongly.  We, like the author of Psalm 5, want better than we deserve yet desire the worst for our foes.  By means of grace a defenseless newborn boy is greater than Augustus Caesar.  Much is possible via grace.

Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 29, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE BEHEADING OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

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A New Birth of Justice   Leave a comment

Above:  The Virgin in Prayer, by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN  THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Almighty and everlasting God, you are brightness of faithful souls and the desire of all nations.

So fill the world with your glory and show yourself by the radiance of your light

that all the peoples of the earth may be subject to you;  through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965)

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Isaiah 7:10-14

Psalm 31

Titus 2:11-3:7

Matthew 1:18-25

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The Gospel of Matthew appropriates and reinterprets a story from Isaiah 7.  The assigned reading from that story is too short; it should be 7:1-17, at least.

Ahaz (reigned 743/735-727/715 B.C.E.) was the King of Judah.  He was one of the many monarchs who received a negative review in the Bible.  Jerusalem, Ahaz’s capital city, was under threat from allied forces of Israel (the northern kingdom) and Aram (Syria).  God, via the prophet Isaiah, sent a reassuring message to Ahaz; the effort of the two allied kings,

those two smoking stubs of firebrands

–Isaiah 7:4, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

would fail.  Ahaz, when prompted to ask for a sign of divine deliverance, pretended to be pious and refused to request a sigh.  He received one anyway.  A young woman (literally, a maiden) would give birth to a son.  The sign of divine deliverance from imminent destruction was new, vulnerable life.

One might be like the author of Psalm 31 and seek refuge in God when under threat.  Alternatively, one might be like Ahaz and not seek it yet receive it anyway.

The reading from Titus is disturbing.  The author, writing in the name of St. Paul the Apostle, writes a leader of the church on the island of Crete.  The assigned portion of this epistle follows directly from verses that indicate that slaves must be thoroughly under the control of their masters and never talk back to them or steal from them.  The purpose of slaves behaving “properly” will be

to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every way.

–Verse 10b, The New American Bible

The pericope indicates a concern for orderliness and obedience to authority, as opposed to lawlessness.  We read that we used to be slaves to a range of pleasures of desires.  Being that kind of slave is negative in Titus, but being a literal slave is permissible.  Huh?  Actually, legalized slavery and other forms of institutionalized injustice are worse than lawlessness, for opposition to such injustice is a virtue.

The Letter to Titus indicates the degree to which certain elements of early Christianity accommodated themselves to societal and legal norms of the Roman Empire.  I do not advise reflexive contrariness regarding societal and legal norms, but I do state unequivocably that we who claim to follow God–in Christ, in particular–have a moral duty to march to the beat of a different drummer.  Whenever law and society are correct, that is wonderful.  But whenever law and society are wrong, we have an obligation to say so and to act accordingly.  After all, as Titus 2:12 tells us, we should live justly, devoutly, and temperately.  And, to delve into an earlier portion of Titus 2, sound teaching is vital.

Slavery is contrary to sound teaching.  Here I stand; I will not do otherwise.  This is one point on which I differ from the author of the epistle.  Another is the affirmation of the slur against Cretans in 1:12-13.

As we await the celebration of the birth of Jesus–certainly new, vulnerable life, may we recommit ourselves in his name–the name of one executed unjustly and legally by the Roman Empire–to a new birth of justice for all in the world.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 28, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMBROSE OF MILAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; MONICA OF HIPPO, MOTHER OF SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO; AND AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO, BISHOP OF HIPPO REGIUS

THE FEAST OF DENIS WORTMAN, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF LAURA S. COPERHAVER, U.S. LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER AND MISSIONARY LEADER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MOSES THE BLACK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND MARTYR

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Varieties of Exile   Leave a comment

Above:  Road to Natural Bridge in Death Valley National Park, California, 2012

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-23917

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FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN  THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Bestow your light on us, O Lord, that, being rid of the darkness of our hearts,

we may attain to the true light;  through Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 69

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Isaiah 62:10-12

Psalm 32

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Luke 3:2b-6

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Isaiah 40:3-5 (quoted in Luke 2:4b-6) and Isaiah 6:10-12 share the thread of return from exile.  In order to grasp Isaiah 62:10-12 one should back up to the beginning of the chapter.  The Babylonian Exile is over yet the reality of Jerusalem after liberation by the Persian Empire does not live up to expectations.  God will indeed restore the fortunes of Jerusalem, we read; more exiles, accompanied by the Presence of God, will return to their ancestral homeland via a highway in the desert.  This is the same highway in Isaiah 40:3-5.

The Babylonian Exile, according to the Hebrew Bible, occurred mostly because of persistent societal sinfulness, such as that manifested in idolatry and institutionalized social injustice.  Divine judgment was simply the consequence of human actions.  Then forgiveness followed, hence the reading of Psalm 32 in the context of Isaiah 62:10-12.  Mercy followed judgment.

Quoting Isaiah 40:3-5 in Luke 3 was thematically appropriate, for life in Roman-occupied Judea constituted exile of a sort.  Expectations of deliverance from the occupiers was commonplace yet not universal among Jews in the homeland.  Jesus, of course, was not the conquering hero; he was no Judas Maccabeus.  No, Jesus was a savior of a different sort.  The high expectations left over from Isaiah 62 remained unfulfilled.

There is, of course, the major of the continuing passage of time.  The fact that these hopes remain unfulfilled does not mean that they will remain so indefinitely.  God’s schedule is not ours.  God, who is the ultimate judge, is faithful and full of surprises.  May the incongruity between our expectations and divine tactics and schedules not stand in the way of serving God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 28, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMBROSE OF MILAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; MONICA OF HIPPO, MOTHER OF SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO; AND AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO, BISHOP OF HIPPO REGIUS

THE FEAST OF DENIS WORTMAN, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF LAURA S. COPERHAVER, U.S. LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER AND MISSIONARY LEADER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MOSES THE BLACK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND MARTYR

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The Gestation of Hope   Leave a comment

Above:  The Annunciation, by El Greco

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN  THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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

Grant that we may hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that, by patience, and comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and ever hold fast

the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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Lord God, heavenly Father, we ask that you so rule and guide us by your Holy Spirit

that we may receive your holy word with our whole heart,

that through your word we may be sanctified,

and may learn to place all our trust and hope in Jesus Christ your Son,

and following him may be led safely through all evil,

until through your grace we come to everlasting life;

through the same Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 69

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Isaiah 11:1-10

Psalm 23

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Luke 1:26-35

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Psalm 23 is a familiar text.  One problem associated with familiar texts of the Bible is that one might not be as familiar with them as one imagines, so one might go into unfortunate autopilot mode.  In Psalm 23 the author (allegedly David), although surrounded by enemies, expresses confidence in divine protection.  The enemies cannot keep up; only divine goodness and steadfast love pursue the author.  They do not merely follow; no, they engage in hot pursuit.

The setting of Isaiah 11:1-10 was shortly after the fall of the northern Kingdom of Israel and a generation before the fall of the southern Kingdom of Judah.  Threats to the continued existence abounded and bad monarchs were the rule, not the exception.  The description of the ideal king put the actual monarchs of Judah to shame.  The majority of Davidic kings did not build up the realm; no, they tore it down.

St. Paul the Apostle, writing to the Thessalonian church circa 51 C.E., did so in the context of widespread expectations of the imminent second coming of Jesus.  Some of the faithful had already died, however.  St. Paul, in Chapter 4, comforted his audience by telling them that the faithful deceased would not miss the great event.  In Chapter 5 the Apostle to the Gentiles urged the members of that church to encourage and build each other up.  The imminent end of days was no excuse to slack off morally, he insisted.

As of the writing of this post we are still waiting the second coming.  St. Paul’s advice from 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 remains current, however.

The presence of the reading from Luke 1 on the Second Sunday of Advent makes sense liturgically.  Its strongest connection, as best as I can tell, is to Isaiah 11:1-10, for Jesus is the ideal king.  He is not, however, a monarch in the sense of any human model–certainly not from the time of the Bible.  No, Jesus breaks the royal molds, as he should.  We read in John 6:14-15 that, after the Feeding of the 5000, Jesus withdrew to the hills by himself when he realized that a crowd wanted to declare him king in opposition to the Roman Empire.  No, the visions of Jesus as an ideal ruler put all earthly national leaders to shame.  Thus discussion of the Kingdom of God contains a strong element of social and political criticism of the status quo.

The Kingdom of God, which only God can usher into full reality, provides a lofty standard for the time being.  It is useful to remember that, as long as reality falls so far short of the ideal, that divine goodness and steadfast love continue to pursue the servants of God all the days of their lives and that enemies must look on as God sets a banquet table for the faithful.

Meanwhile, hope gestates.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 27, 2017 COMMON ERA

PROPER 16:  THE TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

THE FEAST OF THOMAS GALLAUDET AND HENRY WINTER SYLE, EPISCOPAL PRIESTS

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In the Wilderness   Leave a comment

Above:  An Oasis, Between 1898 and 1914

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-07236

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FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN  THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Almighty God, you have taught us that the night is far spent and the day is at hand.

Grant that we may ever be found watching for the coming of your Son.

Save us from undue love of the world, that we may wait with patient hope for the day of the Lord,

and so abide in him, that when he shall appear we may not be ashamed; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 69

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Malachi 3:1-7b

Psalm 1

Romans 13:8-14

Mark 13:33-37

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The readings from Malachi 3 and Mark 13 sound the note of divine judgment.  The Day of the Lord will be bad news for many, we read in Malachi 3, a text indicative of the Hebrew prophetic concern for the conditions of the vulnerable members of society.  Those who oppress them come in for divine condemnation, as do those who swear falsely, commit adultery, and practice sorcery.  Our lesson from Mark 13 concludes the miniature apocalypse of that Gospel, in the context of Holy Week.  May we all perform our sacred duties faithfully.

The decision to assign a portion of Mark 13 for the First Sunday of Advent is appropriate, given the apocalyptic character of the season of Advent.  That decision also seems consistent with the practice of reading the same set of passages on the First Sunday of Advent as on Palm Sunday, per certain Lutheran and Moravian lectionaries.  Not all is light and joy, we perceive.  Yes, the King is coming, but this is not entirely happy news, even for the King, much less his enemies.

Love cannot wrong a neighbour;

therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

–Romans 13:10, The Revised English Bible (1989)

That verse from St. Paul the Apostle is consistent with our reading from Malachi 3.  As we read in Psalm 1, the wicked, despite any appearances of long-lasting prosperity and success, will perish, and the righteous, despite any appearances of failure, will flourish in the long term.  They are, after all, like trees planted by streams of water.  The timeframe for this success and prosperity of the faithful might not satisfy us or otherwise meet human expectations, but God works on a different schedule.

The wilderness imagery of Psalm 1 is appropriate for Advent.  It is of a piece with the wilderness themes in Lent and accounts of St. John the Baptist in the desert.  In a desert plants with roots in streams will have enough water; they will persist in otherwise hostile circumstances.

The season of Advent is a time to prepare for the twelve days of Christmas (December 25-January 5).  May we certainly observe all the days of Christmas as the sacred season they are.  May we also give Advent its due and be ready for Christmas.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 27, 2017 COMMON ERA

PROPER 16:  THE TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

THE FEAST OF THOMAS GALLAUDET AND HENRY WINTER SYLE, EPISCOPAL PRIESTS

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