Archive for September 1, 2017

A Light to the Nations VI   Leave a comment

Above:  Pottery Oil Lamp

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-12216

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

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Lord, you see that all hearts are empty unless you fill them,

and that all desires are balked unless they crave for you.

Give us light and grace to seek and find you, that you may be ours forever.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 85

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Isaiah 49:8-13

Psalm 10

Ephesians 2:11-18

Matthew 5:14-20

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These readings mesh especially well.  They also return to the familiar theme of being a light to the nations.

Psalm 10 asks why God stands at a distance while, as the New American Bible states the matter,

Arrogant scoundrels pursue the poor;

they trap them by their cunning schemes.

–Verse 2

This is a timeless question.  Today, as in Psalm 10, the wicked crouch and lurk (figuratively, of course), with the purpose of ambushing and trapping the poor.  The reference to that pose is a literary allusion to Genesis 4:7, in which sin crouches and lurks at the door.  The author of Psalm 10 concludes on a note of confidence in God, but one might wonder how sincerely.  One could just as well speak the last several verses sarcastically; that would fit well with the rest of the psalm.

Isaiah 49:8-13, set in the context of the return from the Babylonian Exile, seems to answer the author of Psalm 10.  Gentile monarchs and nobles will revere God, who has taken back His afflicted ones in love.  God will act and keep faith, or hesed, with the afflicted.  God will be the light that attracts Gentiles to Himself.  Therefore, as in Ephesians 2, in Christ artificial barriers, such as those that separate Jews from Gentiles, cease to exist.  As we know from scriptures I have covered in previous posts in this series, Jews and faithful Gentiles are the Chosen People together.

That is so, but this reality does not change the fact that many people who consider themselves faithful prefer to preserve categories that Jesus erases.  My best guess is that these individuals labor under the incorrect impression of what divinely approved categories are and what merely human categories are.  Each of us who call ourselves faithful are guilty of this offense to some degree.

As Matthew 5:14-20 reminds us, we are the light of the world.  Yet many of us hide or misdirect our light.  We have an obligation to shed the light on God, for the sake of divine glory.  We ought to be the polar opposite of the oppressors in Psalm 10.  They boast in their greed and deny that, if God exists, He does not care.  (See Psalms 14 and 53 about that point.)  They seem to be amoral.  They shine their light on themselves, to their glory, such as it is.

God does care–quite deeply, of course.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SUNDAR SINGH, INDIAN CHRISTIAN EVANGELIST

THE FEAST OF DAVID PENDLETON OAKERHATER, EPISCOPAL DEACON

THE FEAST OF SAINT FIACRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

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A Light to the Nations V   Leave a comment

Above:  The Adoration of the Magi, by Albrecht Durer

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-40191

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

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We ask, Lord, that you mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you,

and that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do,

and may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 85

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Isaiah 60:1-3, 6b

Psalm 24

Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12

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Isaiah 60 and Psalm 24 state that God is the King, a ruler superior to human rulers who shed the blood of the innocent, commit injustice shamelessly, and do not care about integrity.  God is not fully the King of the Earth yet, we read, but that will change.  God is certainly superior to the unstable and evil Herod the Great, a client ruler within the Roman Empire and a man fearful of a young boy.

Interestingly, Father Raymond E. Brown, author of The Birth of the Messiah (1977 and 1993) and An Introduction to the New Testament (1997), both magisterial works of Biblical scholarship, was dubious of the story in Matthew 2 (considering the account in Luke 2, despite its factual errors, more plausible) yet affirmed the Virgin Birth.  For a long time many scholars–even conservative ones–have struggled to reconcile the very different stories in Matthew 2 and Luke 2.  Nevertheless, would not visiting Magi have been more likely than a virginal conception and subsequent birth?

Regardless of the objective reality regarding that matter, the kingship of God remains.  Most of God’s subjects are Gentiles, whom He does not exclude from the potential for salvation.  This is an old theme in the Bible, given the faithful Gentiles who appear in the pages of the Hebrew Bible.  The narrative makes room for the civilly disobedient midwives Shiphrah and Puah (probably ethnically Egyptian) in Exodus 1, for Rahab the prostitute of Jericho and her family in Joshua 2 and 6, and Ruth in Ruth 1-4, for example.  The four chapters of Jonah, a work of fiction and a Jewish protest against post-Babylonian Exilic exclusionary attitudes among Jews, remain relevant in many settings.  We read of some Gentile Godfearers in John 12:20-36.  Faithful Gentiles, we read in epistles of St. Paul the Apostle as well as those texts others wrote in his name, join the Jews in the ranks of the Chosen People.  Are not the Chosen People–Jews and Gentiles–supposed to be a light to the nations, that is, Gentiles?

The message of God is for all people.  Not all will accept it, however; that is their decision.  The offer is on the table one way or another, however.  It is a generous offer and a gift.  The grace is free yet not cheap, for it makes demands of all its recipients.  So be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SUNDAR SINGH, INDIAN CHRISTIAN EVANGELIST

THE FEAST OF DAVID PENDLETON OAKERHATER, EPISCOPAL DEACON

THE FEAST OF SAINT FIACRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

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Good News   Leave a comment

Above:  Nunc Dimittis

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Father, you have declared your love to humankind by the birth of the holy child at Bethlehem.

Help us to welcome him with gladness and to make room for him in our common days,

so that we may live at peace with one another and in good will with all your family;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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

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Zechariah 2:10-13

Psalm 34

Hebrews 1:1-12

Luke 2:21-32

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Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.

Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity;

you love righteousness and hate wickedness.

–Psalm 45:6-7a, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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The author of Psalm 34 praised God for deliverance from trouble.

O taste and see that the LORD is good;

happy are they who take refuge in him.

–Psalm 34:8, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Exiles whom God commanded to flee from the place of their captivity (in Zechariah 2) must have felt grateful.  Certainly the captors did not feel blessed, however.  Those who lived by the sword died the same way.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews quoted Psalm 45:6-7 in 1:8-9.  He did so in reference to Jesus, a deliverer of a variety different from Cyrus II, King of the Persians and the Medes.  Jesus was greater than Cyrus.  However, Jesus (the historical figure, not the eternal Second Person of the Trinity; Christology is complicated) had a humble origin as a baby.  He did not outwardly seem great to uninformed people at first.  Simeon of Jerusalem was among the informed; he recognized the Messiah immediately.

Now, Lord, you are releasing your servant in peace,

according to your promise.

For I have seen with my own eyes

the deliverance you have made ready in full view of all nations:

a light that will bring revelation to the Gentiles

and glory to your people Israel.

–Luke 2:29-32, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The reading, however, should extend through verse 35, at least.  By continuing to read we find the predictions of the rejection of Jesus and the piercing of Mary’s heart.

Often good news comes mixed with bad news–sometimes for the same people.  Does this reality shake our confidence that God is good?

As for revelation to the Gentiles, we will pick up that thread in the next post.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SUNDAR SINGH, INDIAN CHRISTIAN EVANGELIST

THE FEAST OF DAVID PENDLETON OAKERHATER, EPISCOPAL DEACON

THE FEAST OF SAINT FIACRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

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