Building Up Each Other in Christ, Part VIII   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday of Advent, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness,

and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life,

in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility;

that in the last day, when he shall come again in his

glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead,

we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth

with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 105

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Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 46

Hebrews 10:19-25

Matthew 25:1-13

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“Desist!  Realize that I am God!

I dominate the nations;

I dominate the earth.”

–Psalm 46:11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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…for he is utterly dependable….

J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972)

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Three themes dominate this group of four readings.  They are:

  1. the reliability of God,
  2. the sovereignty of God, and
  3. the balance of divine judgment and mercy.

In the full Biblical sense, to believe in God is to trust God.  Whenever someone asks me if I believe in God, I reply first by asking what he or she means by “believe in God.”  The second part of my answer depends on what the person means.  I am glad to answer honestly, but I need to know what the question really is.  I always affirm the existence of God.  That is insufficient, though.  I trust God most of the time.  I know the meaning of

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.

–Matthew 9:24

Trusting God can be difficult, especially during times of distress.

I publish this devotional post during a time of global and national distress.  The COVID-19 pandemic, made worse by human irresponsibility (both collective and individual) is taking lives, damaging lives, and wrecking economies.  Right-wing populism, fueled by hatred and resentment, remains firmly entrenched in the mainstream of politics in many nation-states.  Misinformation and what Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) called “damn lies” spread quickly via the internet and other media.  Achieving a consensus regarding what constitutes objective reality has become increasingly difficult in this age of “alternative facts.”  Incivility is on the rise.

Affirming with my lips, pens, pencils, and computer keyboards that God dominates the earth and is utterly dependable is easier than internalizing that message.  Yet I think about Jeremiah, who watched homeland, reduced to vassalage to the Babylonian/Neo-Chaldean Empire, near its end at the hands of that empire.  I recall his documented struggles with God.  And I read a bold yet partially-fulfilled prediction in 31:31-34.

God is faithful, as we must be.  Collective and individual responsibility are Biblical virtues.  The parable in Matthew 25:1-13 reminds us of our individual responsibility.  It tells us that there are some spiritual tasks nobody can fulfill for us.  And mutuality remains a principle that carries over from the Law of Moses.

I consider the epistle reading.  Hebrews 10:19-25 is usually a passage assigned for Good Friday.  Scheduling this passage for the First Sunday of Advent makes much sense and fits with precedents.  One may detect, for example, the inclusion of the classical Passion Chorale (with words other than those for Good Friday) in some sacred music for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.  One may recognize this motif in certain compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.  To think of the crucifixion near and at Christmas is appropriate.

The advice, set in the context of faith community, to build up each other and to provoke one another to love and good deeds is timeless and sage counsel.  It falls into the category of mutuality.  May we, collectively and individually, look out for each other and take care of each other.  May we seek to build up each other, not tear each other down.  May we bolster each other in healthy faith.  May we love according to the standard of the Golden Rule and 1 Corinthians 13.  May we succeed, by faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 27, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES INTERCISUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 421

THE FEAST OF JAMES MILLS THOBURN, ISABELLA THOBURN, AND CLARA SWAIN, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARIES TO INDIA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COOKE AND BENJAMIN WEBB, ANGLICAN PRIESTS AND TRANSLATORS OF HYMNS

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