Archive for October 2018

Nature and Human Nature   Leave a comment

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

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O God, who knowest us to be in the midst of many dangers, that we cannot always stand upright;

grant to us such strength and protection that we may be supported in all difficulty,

and our feet be set against temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 119

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Genesis 18:22-33

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Matthew 8:23-27

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The story of Abraham haggling with God for the lives of complete strangers in Genesis 18 impresses me.  It also causes me to wonder why he was so submissive to God’s demand in Genesis  21.  I can only guess how much psychological damage the sight of a father ready to kill his son (Isaac) caused to the son.

Above:  The Sacrifice of Isaac, by Caravaggio

Image in the Public Domain

The warning against sexual immorality in general in prostitution in particular in 1 Corinthians 6 is part of a longer discourse about sexual morality in that epistle.  Prostitution is not, despite the common term, a victimless crime.  Readings in history reveal that many prostitute have been sexual slaves, for example.  Furthermore, everyone involved pays some sort of price, monetary or otherwise.  Readings in history also reveal that many women have become prostitutes as a last resort–to avoid starvation.  Any society that forces people into that dilemma commits sin against God and them.

In the case of 1 Corinthians, temple prostitution is a matter to consider.  When one realizes that, one comes to understand that clients were uniting themselves with a false, imaginary deity, as well as with a prostitute.  This understanding adds depth to one’s grasp of the language about unions and a temple in the passage.

The title of this post is “Nature and Human Nature.”  The “human nature” aspect is plain from what precedes this paragraph.  For the rest we must turn to Matthew 8, where we read of Jesus calming an aquatic storm.  To be fearful when one’s life is in danger is human nature.  Sexuality is why the human species continues, as well as a means of commerce.  Advertising confirms the end of the previous sentence.

But what about empathy?  It is part of human nature, too.  Nevertheless, so is the lack of concern for strangers and those different from us.  The dehumanization and demonization of the “other” is an old–and current–strategy in politics and warfare.

The Incarnation had much meaning.  Part of that meaning was God empathizing with us.  This empathy was evident in the life and ministry of Jesus, who established examples for those who came to call themselves Christians to follow.

God, who has mastery over nature, commands us to live up to the best of our human nature and to rise above the depths of our human nature, for the sake of divine glory, the benefit of others, and the living into our potential in God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 29, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAMES HANNINGTON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF EASTERN EQUATORIAL AFRICA; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOMAUS HELDER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, COMPOSER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH GRIFF, ENGLISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PAUL MANZ, DEAN OF LUTHERAN CHURCH MUSIC

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The Kingdom of God, Part IV   Leave a comment

Above:  Ministry of the Apostles

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities,

and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth thy right hand to help and defend us;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 119

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Ezekiel 34:25-31

Romans 14:1-9

Mark 1:14-22

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The time has arrived; the kingdom of God is upon you.  Repent, and believe the gospel.

–Jesus, in Mark 1:14, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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The concept of the Kingdom of God is multifaceted.  In the New Testament it carries shades of meaning.  In at least one instance it refers to Heaven.  However, it usually indicates the earthly reign or realm of God.  Sometimes the operative Greek word indicates more of a reign than a realm, but a reign seems to imply a realm, does it not?  So, where is the Kingdom of God?  It seems rather difficult to locate, given history and current events.

More than one answer proves helpful, at least to me.  I read C. H. Dodd and learn of his perspective, Realized Eschatology.  The Kingdom of God is not nearer at one point than at another; it just seems that way from our human points of view.  Other scholars prefer to emphasize the sense in which the Kingdom of God is already present, yet not fully realized.  The Kingdom of God, at least from our human, temporal perspectives, is both present and future.

The unconditional love of God for us is free yet not cheap grace; it imposes responsibilities upon us.  We have orders to look out for each other.  Certainly the Kingdom of God, even if only partially realized, is present in such actions.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 28, 2018 COMMON ERA

PROPER 25:  THE TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINTS SIMON AND JUDE, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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A Higher Unity   2 comments

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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For Christian Unity, Years 1 and 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Eternal God:  you have called us to be members of one body.

Bind us to those who in all times and places have called on your name,

so that, with one heart and mind, we may display the unity of the church,

and bring glory to your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972), 159

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Isaiah 11:1-6

Ephesians 4:1-16

John 15:1-11

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Christian unity has long been an illusory goal.  Divisions were already evident in the days of the New Testament, for example.  Denominations have merged over time, but I have noticed a pattern:  Whenever two or more denominations have merged, two or more denominations have usually formed.  For example, the three-way U.S. Methodist reunion of 1939 produced four denominations, the merger that created The United Methodist Church in 1968 led to the formation of at least two denominations, and, over a period of eleven years (1972-1983), the 1983 reunion that created the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) resulted in three denominations.

The quest for doctrinal purity has long been a leading cause of schisms and continued separations.  The problem with the quest for doctrinal purity has been that the human definitions of such purity have frequently been erroneous–depending chattel slavery, for example.  Such misguided, false orthodoxy has often officially been part of a debate over Biblical authority, as in the cases of arguments over chattel slavery in U.S. denominations during the 1800s.

Not surprisingly, most denominational mergers have occurred to the left, just as the majority of schisms have occurred to the right.

Despite the scandal of denominational inertia, there remains a higher unity in God–in Christ, to be precise.  There one can find the Christian center, with heresies located to the left and the right.  A dose of theological humility is in order; each of us is wrong about certain theological matters, many of which are minor.  There is, however, a core we must never violate.  We must believe (in words and deeds) the existence of God, the Incarnation, the resurrection of Jesus, and the atonement, for example.  If we do not do so, we are not Christians.

Generally, many denominations stand separated from each other because of minor differences while they the core of the Christian faith.  In the core there is a path to a higher unity; we should follow it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 28, 2018 COMMON ERA

PROPER 25:  THE TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINTS SIMON AND JUDE, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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Resisting Tyrants and Authoritarians   Leave a comment

Above:  Herod the Great

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty and everlasting God, who dost govern all things in heaven and earth:

mercifully hear the prayers of thy people, and grant us thy peace all the days of our life;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 119

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Ezekiel 34:11-16

Ephesians 4:17-24

Matthew 2:16-23

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Herod the Great was one of the bad shepherds, to use the figure of speech from Ezekiel 34, of antiquity.  He was also a cruel man who had no qualms about ordering the deaths of relatives and strangers alike.  He was a man in need of renewal of the mind.

Questioning the authority of tyrants and authoritarians is a moral duty.  If one really takes seriously the call to effect justice, one must resist tyrants and authoritarians, certainly bad shepherds.  Doing so is far from being unpatriotic; it is quite the opposite, and in the best interests of the general populace.

If one is not in a position in which one needs to oppose a tyrant or an authoritarian, one is fortunate.  Such a person may wind up in that position in time, though, given the current rise of fascism and authoritarianism in the world.  Unfortunately, many people who claim to follow God support tyrants and authoritarians.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 28, 2018 COMMON ERA

PROPER 25:  THE TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINTS SIMON AND JUDE, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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Posted October 28, 2018 by neatnik2009 in Ephesians 4, Ezekiel 34, Matthew 2

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Words Matter I   3 comments

(ESPECIALLY IN WHAT PASSES FOR POLITICAL AND SOCIAL DISCOURSE)

Given the dehumanization and demonization of many people who think one way by many who disagree with them (hardly a new problem, yet amplified by social media, the increased tribalization of politics, and the most recent rise of fascism and unapologetic racism, nativism, and xenophobia across the world), I could make yet another statement denouncing all these patterns.  I choose, however to quote a passage from antiquity–one far more eloquent than I am capable of being.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 27, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HARRY WEBB FARRINGTON, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT AEDESIUS, PRIEST AND MISSIONARY; AND SAINT FRUMENTIUS, FIRST BISHOP OF AXUM AND ABUNA OF THE ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX TEWAHEDO CHURCH

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My friends, not many of you should become teachers, for you may be certain that we who teach will ourselves face severer judgement.  All of us go wrong again and again; a man who never says anything wrong is perfect and is capable of controlling every part of his body.  When we put a bit into a horse’s mouth to make it obey our will we can direct the whole animal.  Or think of a ship:  large though it may be and drive by gales, it can be steered by a very small rudder on whatever course the helmsman chooses.  So with the tongue; it is small but its pretensions are great.

What a vast amount of timber can be set ablaze by the tiniest spark!  And the tongue is a fire, representing in our body the whole wicked world.  It pollutes our whole being, it sets the whole course of our existence alight, and its flames are fed by hell.  Beasts and birds of every kind, creatures that crawl on the ground or swim in the sea, can be subdued and have been subdued by man; but no one can subdue the tongue.  It is an evil thing, restless and charged with deadly venom.  We use it to praise our Lord and Father; then we use it to invoke curses on our fellow-men, though they are made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and curses.  This should not be so, my friends.  Does a fountain flow with both fresh and brackish water from the same outlet?  My friends, can a fig tree produce olives, or a grape vine produce figs?  No more can salt water produce fresh.

–James 3:1-12, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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Posted October 27, 2018 by neatnik2009 in James 3

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Judgment, Mercy, and Anger   Leave a comment

Above:  Ocean

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O Lord God, who hast promised to hear the prayers of thy people when they call upon thee:

guide us, we pray, that we may know what things we ought to do,

and receive the power to do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 119

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Micah 7:18-20

Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12

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Micah 7:19 contains a wonderful word picture–God hurling the sins of the remnant of the Kingdom of Judah into the sea.  That verbal image belies a familiar stereotype about the Bible.  One can hear easily that the Old Testament is about judgment, doom, and gloom, but that God is suddenly merciful in the New Testament.  Perhaps one thinks of a certain routine by the comedian Lewis Black, in which he repeated that stereotype and said that God changed after having a son.  It is a funny joke, but a rank heresy.  It also indicates a superficial reading of the Old and New Testaments; there is a balance of judgment and mercy in both.  In Micah 7, for example, collective forgiveness follows collective punishment for sins.

The readings from Ephesians 3 and Matthew 2 indicate the expansion of the definition of “Chosen People,” whose sins God figuratively throws into the depths of the sea.  However, if one continues to read Matthew 2, one reads of the lack of mercy of Herod the Great.

A principle present in the Old and New Testaments, as in Matthew 7:1-5, is that God applies to us the standards we apply to others.  In the Law of Moses the penalty for perjury, to convict an innocent person, is to suffer the penalty one would have had the falsely accused person endure.  This is an inverse cousin of the Golden Rule.

Anger is understandable.  Sometimes it is even morally justifiable.  Often, however, it is self-destructive.  Do we define ourselves by how often we forgive and love another or by how often we hate one another and nurse grudges?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 27, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HARRY WEBB FARRINGTON, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT AEDESIUS, PRIEST AND MISSIONARY; AND SAINT FRUMENTIUS, FIRST BISHOP OF AXUM AND ABUNA OF THE ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX TEWAHEDO CHURCH

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A Light to the Nations IX   2 comments

Above:  The Journey of the Magi

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Feast of the Epiphany, Years 1 and 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O God, who by the leading of a star revealed thy newborn Son to those far off:

mercifully grant that we who know thee by faith, may in this life glorify thee,

and in the life to come behold thee face to face,

through the same thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 119

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Isaiah 60:1-6

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

Matthew 2:1-12

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I am an unapologetic pedant.  I wince whenever I hear or read people use “viable” in lieu of “feasible.”  I know that signs above express lanes in grocery stores should read

10 Items or Fewer,

instead of the ubiquitous

10 Items or Less.

The misuse of “impact” in lieu of verbs such as “influence” and “affect,” minus the traditional physicality (either a collision or becoming wedged in somewhere) is an assault on proper English.  Likewise, the use of “impacted” for “affected,” as well as “impactful,” are inexcusable.  Any use of “they,” “them,” “their,” and “themselves” other than as plural words bothers me, for I respect the distinction between the plural and the singular.  And I know that Magi and shepherds never belong together in manger scenes.  If we reconcile the accounts from Matthew 2 and Luke 2 (a dubious proposition, according to many New Testament scholars), we must place about two years (Matthew 2:16) between them.

The Feast of the Epiphany is, on one level, about the Gospel of Jesus Christ going out to the goyim.  On another level, it is about the goyim coming (in the case of the magi, traveling) to Christ.  The reading from Isaiah 60, with the full reversal of exile and the goyim going to Jerusalem, fits into this theme well.  The Gospel of Christ is unveiled, plain to see, and like a light shining in the darkness, which has yet to understand and overpower it (John 1:5).

I stand within a theological tradition that affirms Single Predestination.  God predestines some people to Heaven and uses the witness of the Holy Spirit to invite the others.  The damned are those who condemn or have condemned themselves; God sends nobody to Hell, but everyone.  This theology is consistent with the Epiphany.  The Jews are the Chosen People, yes, but we Gentiles are like limbs grafted onto the tree of Judaism.

Will we, like the magi, obey God?  Or will we, like Herod the Great, pursue our own agendas instead?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 26, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALFRED THE GREAT, KING OF THE WEST SAXONS

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR CAMPBELL AINGER, ENGLISH EDUCATOR, SCHOLAR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS POTT, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF HENRY STANLEY OAKELEY, COMPOSER

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Eschatological Ethics VI: A New Year’s Resolution   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Apocalypse of John

Image in the Public Domain

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For New Year’s Day, Years 1 and 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Judge eternal:  in your purpose our lives are lived,  and by your grace our hopes are bright.

Be with us in the coming year, forgiving, leading, and serving;

so that we may walk without fear, in the way of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Worshipbook:  Services and Hymns (1972), 158

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Eternal God, who makest all things new, and abidest for ever the same:

Grant us to begin this year in Thy faith, and to continue it in Thy favor;

that, being guided in all or doings, and guarded in all our days,

we may spend our days in Thy service, and finally, by Thy grace,

attain the glory of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship (1946), 316

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Deuteronomy 8:1-10

Revelation 21:1-7

Matthew 25:31-46

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To make a new year’s resolution is a frequent exercise in good intentions quickly abandoned for one reason or another.  In the context of the assigned readings, however, I propose a truly daunting resolution for every year.

Only God can save the world, but we (collectively and individually) have a divine commandment to leave it better than we find it.  This is part of eschatological ethics.  Belief in the return of Jesus is no good reason not to obey divine commandments vis-à-vis our environment (being good stewards of it) and loving our neighbors (nearby and far away).  The current world order is inherently corrupt, based on violence and exploitation.  We have the power to reduce the extent to which that statement is true, but not to create Utopia, literally “nowhere.”

May we resolve to live in the awareness of the Presence of God, who commands us to follow the Golden Rule.  May we resolve to acknowledge in thoughts, words, and deeds that thoughts and prayers are frequently inadequate and a cop-out anyway; that God demands that we act to improve situations when we can.  May we resolve to grasp that the command in Matthew 25:31-46 to care for the “least of these” is too much for individuals, and frequently challenging for organizations, whether public or private.  May we resolve to recognize Christ and the image of God in those who make us uncomfortable and are quite different from us.  May we resolve to recognize immigrants and refugees as our neighbors.  May we resolve, simply put, to love each other effectively and actively in the name of God and specifically of Jesus, who demonstrated his sacrificial love.

Love cannot wrong a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

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

Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 24, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY CARY SHUTTLEWORTH, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Eschatological Ethics V: Compartmentalization   2 comments

Above:  Watergate Hotel, Washington, D.C.

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-16601

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For the Second Sunday after Christmas, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O God, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ became man that we might become the partakers of the sons of God:

grant, we beseech thee, that being made partakers of the divine nature of thy Son

we may be conformed to his likeness;

who lives and reigns with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 118

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Micah 4:1-4

1 Peter 2:1-10

Luke 3:4-17

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Eschatological expectations permeate the assigned readings for this Sunday.

In this post I choose to avoid repeating certain germane statements, which I have made in recent posts, and focus instead on the link between private morality and public morality.  One may think of certain figures who committed criminal acts related to the Watergate Scandal, and how, despite their avoidance of certain personal peccadilloes, their public morality was wanting.  I also think of certain political figures of various partisan affiliations who obviously led to morally compartmentalized lives, as well as of some who do.  As I acknowledge that outlawing everything that is immoral is not a feasible option, and that sometimes outlawing certain morally reprehensible practices is not the most effective way to combat them, but actually leads to moral blowback, I seek to find a balanced position, for I know that theocracy is destructive to both church and state, perhaps more so to the former.  I, as a historian, know of politicians with glaring, persistent immorality in their private lives who nevertheless were forces for good in their country and the world.  I also know of politicians whose glaring, persistent immorality in their personal lives compromised their ability to be good leaders.   Furthermore, I know of politicians who had impeccable private lives and were terrible leaders.  I prefer politicians with impeccable private lives who are also effective leaders for positive ends.

Life in a free society entails much mutual forbearance and toleration, within necessary legal limits.  I have no legal or moral right, for example, to drive on the wrong side of the road; public safety is an overriding public good.  Much of what makes a society good bubbles up from the bottom and reaches to the top.  The Biblical principle, evident in the Law of Moses, that we human beings are interdependent and responsible to and for each other is a good place to start.  May we be good to each other, seeking the best for each other.  May we seek to follow the Golden Rule.  Sound morality in private life should influence a politician’s commitment to help the “least of these,” foreign and domestic.  Often abstractness is the greatest enemy of the good.  I propose that pondering details of circumstances then applying the Golden Rule to them is a better way to proceed.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 24, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY CARY SHUTTLEWORTH, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Eschatological Ethics IV: Acting Justly While We Wait   2 comments

Above:  Desert Road

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday after Christmas, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty God, whose glory angels sang when Christ was born:

grant that we, having heard the good news of his coming,

may live to honor thee and to praise his holy name;

through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 118

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Isaiah 62:10-12

Titus 2:11-14

Luke 2:36-40

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The imagery of the road in Isaiah 62:10-12 reminds me of similar language from Isaiah 40:3-5, quoted in Luke 3:4-6.  The motif of a road, upon which people went into exile, becoming the thoroughfare for the return of their descendants, is no accident.  Neither is applying it to messianic expectation.  Notably in Isaiah 62, returning exiles travel that road home in the company of the Presence of God.

Yet the exiles were already home.  Their homeland, part of a Persian satrapy, did not meet their high expectations, as prophets had described the post-exilic circumstances.  Third Isaiah comforted disappointed exiles, assuring them that God was faithful, and that the prophecies had simply not come true yet.

We are still waiting.  We are still waiting for the fully realized rule of God on Earth.  We are still waiting long after the end of the Babylonian Exile and the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Waiting is frequently difficult to do patiently.  Sometimes justice demands impatience of us; patience is not always a virtue.  On other occasions, however, it is.  Part of wisdom is knowing when to wait.  Sometimes we must act while we wait.

While we wait for God to fulfill the promise of the Apocalypse of John, we have responsibilities to God, each other, and ourselves.  We must act morally, in private and in public.  We must obey the Golden Rule–an oddly offensive commandment, from more than one perspective.  We must acknowledge in words and deeds our total reliance on God, our human interdependence, and the absence of any moral right to exploit anyone.  We must build up each other.  Only God can save the world, but we can–and must–leave it better than we found it.

May we succeed, by grace.  Our efforts are necessary, of course, but they are also inadequate.  May we be faithful junior partners of God in the world, which is our neighborhood.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 23, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES OF JERUSALEM, BROTHER OF JESUS

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