Archive for April 2022

The Abstract, the Tangible, and the Mysterious   3 comments

Above:  Icon of the Holy Trinity, by St. Andrei Rublev

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Genesis 1:1-2:3 or Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40

Psalm 29 (LBW) or Psalm 135 (LW)

2 Corinthians 13:11-14

Matthew 28:16-20

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Almighty God our Father,

dwelling in majesty and mystery,

renewing and fulfilling creation by your eternal Spirit,

and revealing your glory through our Lord Jesus Christ: 

Cleanse us from doubt and fear,

and enable us to worship you,

with your Son and the Holy Spirit, one God,

living and reigning, now and forever.  Amen.

OR

Almighty and ever-living God,

you have given us grace,

by the confession of the true faith

to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity

and, in the power of your divine majesty,

to worship the unity. 

Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship,

and bring us at last to see you in your eternal glory,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 24

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Almighty and everlasting God,

since you have given us, your servants,

grace to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity

by the confession of a true faith,

and to worship the true Unity in the power of your divine majesty,

keep us also steadfast in this true faith and worship,

and defend us from all our adversaries;

for you, O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, live and reign,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 61

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ALTA TRINITA BEATA

High and blessed Trinity,

By us always adored.

Glorious Trinity,

Marvelous unity,

You are savory manna

and all that we can desire.

–Medieval, Anonymous

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One may use the word “mystery” in at least two ways.  One may think of a situation in which gathering more information will eliminate confusion and enable arriving at a firm answer.  The Holy Trinity is a mystery, but not in that way.  Even if we mere mortals had all the information about the nature of God, we could not understand it.  We can barely grasp what we do know, and what we know raises more questions than it resolves.  So be it.  The second meaning of “mystery” is an ancient definition:  One can know something only by living into it.  One can know God by faith, for example.

The Feast of the Holy Trinity is the only Christian feast of a doctrine.  It is more than that, though.  Lutheran minister and liturgist Philip H. Pfatteicher recommends thinking of Trinity Sunday as:

…the celebration of the richness of the being of God and the occasion of a thankful review of the now completed mystery of salvation, which is the work of the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.

Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship:  Lutheran Liturgy in Its Ecumenical Context (1990), 301

A doctrine–especially the Holy Trinity–can seem abstract.  Some people (including moi) like abstractions.  However, abstractions leave others cold and spiritually unmoved.  Salvation is not abstract, however; it is tangible.  And how it works is a mystery in at least the second meaning of the word.

Happy Trinity Sunday!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 27, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE WASHINGTON DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF NEW JERSEY; AND HIS SON, WILLIAM CROSWELL DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ALBANY; HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANTONY AND THEODOSIUS OF KIEV, FOUNDERS OF RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MONASTICISM; SAINT BARLAAM OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT; AND SAINT STEPHEN OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, POET AND RELIGIOUS WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS REMACLUS OF MAASTRICHT, THEODORE OF MAASTRICHT, LAMBERT OF MAASTRICHT, HUBERT OF MAASTRICHT AND LIEGE, AND FLORIBERT OF LIEGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT LANDRADA OF MUNSTERBILSEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS; AND SAINTS OTGER OF UTRECHT, PLECHELM OF GUELDERLAND, AND WIRO, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARIES

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZITA OF TUSCANY, WORKER OF CHARITY

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Adapted from this post

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The Nature and Character of God   1 comment

Above:  Pentecost Dove

Image Scanned from a Church Bulletin

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Joel 2:28-29

Psalm 104:25-34 or Veni Creator Spiritus

Acts 2:1-21

John 20:19-23

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God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

as you sent upon the disciples the promised gift of the Holy Spirit,

look upon your Church and open our hearts to the power of the Spirit. 

Kindle in us the fire of your love,

and strengthen our lives for service in your kingdom;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

OR

God our creator, earth has many languages,

but your Gospel announces your love

to all nations in one heavenly speech. 

Make us messengers of the good news that,

through the power of your Spirit,

everyone everywhere may unite in one song of praise;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 23

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O God, on this day you once taught the hearts of your faithful people

by sending them the light of your Holy Spirit. 

Grant us in our day the same Spirit

to have a right understanding in all things

and evermore to rejoice in his holy consolation;

through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you in communion with the Holy Spirit,

now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 59

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VENI CREATOR SPIRITUS

Come, Holy Spirit; 

send down from heaven’s heigh

your radiant light.

Come, lamp of every heart,

come, parent of the poor,

all gifts ar yours.

Comforter beyond all comforting,

sweet unexpected guest,

sweetly refresh.

Rest in hard labour;

coolness in heavy heat,

hurt souls’ relief.

Refill the secret hearts 

of your faithful,

O most blessed light.

Without your holy power

nothing can bear your light,

nothing is free from sin.

Wash all that is filthy,

water all that is parched,

heal what is hurt within.

Bend all that is rigid,

warm all that has frozen hard,

lead back the lost.

Give to your faithful ones,

who come in simple trust,

your sevenfold mystery.

Give virtue its reward,

give, in the end, salvation

and joy that has no end.

–Original Latin text by Rabanus Maurus, 800s C.E.; translation courtesy of The Church of England, Common Worship:  Daily Prayer (2005), 642

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Pentecost is the fiftieth and last day of the season of Easter.  The baptismal connection to this feast is strong.  The alternative name, Whitsunday (White Sunday) refers to the white garments of the newly baptized.

The divine nature exceeds human comprehension.  Orthodox theology offers partial answers, the best we mere mortals can receive.  Receiving those answers does not guarantee comprehending them, though.  So be it.  Christianity is not Gnosticism; salvation depends on grace, not knowledge.  With all this in mind, we can still utilize useful language, much of which may be theological poetry, not theological prose.  God is with us.  God empowers us.  Christian language for this truth is “the Holy Spirit.”

However, I seek to avoid committing modalism, an ancient Trinitarian heresy.  This heresy denies the permanent existence of the members of the Holy Trinity and focuses on allegedly transitory distinctions, defined by functions.  Know, O reader, that I am not a modalist.  I merely acknowledge that the full nature of God is too much for a human mind to grasp and that we mere mortals experience God in certain ways.

I like the Jewish way of explaining the divine nature and character, as much as doing so is possible.  That method is recalling what God has done.  This method pervades the Hebrew Bible.  Think, O reader, what God has done that you have noticed.  Ask yourself what these divine actions tell you about the nature and character of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 26, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COWPER, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT ADELARD OF CORBIE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND ABBOT; AND HIS PROTÉGÉ, SAINT PASCAHSIUS RADBERTUS, FRANKISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF ROBERT HUNT, FIRST ANGLICAN CHAPLAIN AT JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA

THE FEAST OF RUGH BYLLESBY, EPISCOPAL DEACONESS IN GEORGIA

THE FEAST OF SAINT STANISLAW KUBITSA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1940; AND SAINT WLADYSLAW GORAL, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP AND MARTYR, 1945

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM STRINGFELLOW, EPISCOPAL ATTORNEY, THEOLOGIAN, AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST

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Adapted from this post

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St. Paul’s Second Missionary Journey   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of St. Paul the Apostle

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART LXIX

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Acts 15:36-18:23

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STS. PAUL, BARNABAS, AND MARK

I begin by backing up to 13:13:

Paul and his friends went by sea from Perga in Pamphylia where John left them to go back to Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

John was St. (John) Mark.

The tone in 13:13 is neutral.  The verse does not explain why St. (John) Mark returned to Jerusalem.  Consulting commentaries uncovers a variety of possible reasons and the intimation that St. Luke was being diplomatic in 13:13.

If St. Luke was diplomatic in 13:13, his diplomacy had ceased by 15:38:

…but Paul was not in favour of taking along the very man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had refused to share in their work.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

St. (John) Mark and St. (Joseph) Barnabas were cousins.  Naturally, then, St. Barnabas (“son of encouragement”) wanted to include his kinsman.  Yet human frailty broke up the team from the First Missionary Journey.  Sts. Barnabas and Paul separated.

A few years later, by the middle 50s C.E., St. Paul had forgiven St. Mark.

Aristarchus, who is here in prison with me, sends his greetings, and so does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas–you were sent some instructions about him, if he comes to you, give him a warm welcome….

–Colossians 4:10, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

St. Barnabas reunited with St. Mark shortly after separating from St. Paul.  The cousins embarked on a mission to Cyprus (Acts 15:39).

St. Paul seems never to have reconciled with St. Barnabas.  Nevertheless, the reference to St. Barnabas in 1 Corinthians 9:6, in the early 50s C.E., is not hostile:

Are Barnabas and I the only ones who are not allowed to stop working?

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

STS. PAUL AND SILAS

St. Paul found a new missionary partner, St. Silas/Silvanus, and embarked on the Second Missionary Journey.  St. Timothy joined the team early in the journey.  St. Luke was part of the team, too, based on “we” (Acts 16:10-17).

During the Second Missionary Journey, St. Paul founded the house churches at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth, to whom he subsequently addressed epistles.  Yet opponents continued to work against the success of the mission.

DYNAMICS OF POWER:  THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND THE ROMAN EMPIRE

One crucial detail of 16:25-40 is that Sts. Paul and Silas were Roman citizens.  Therefore, the beating and incarceration of them without trial was illegal.  The possible penalties for those who had abused Sts. Paul and Silas included disqualification from holding public office (at best) to execution (at worse).  Therefore, the magistrates at Philippi tried to sweep this matter under the proverbial rug; they begged Sts. Paul and Silas to leave.

Paul’s citizenship is an important, although ironic, feature of his apologia in Acts.  In this regard, Paul’s acceptance of Philippi’s official apology (see v. 39) symbolizes his general attitude toward Rome in Acts.  His point is that Rome is unable to subvert the work of God’s salvation in the world; and even this great empire must come hat in hand to the prophets of the Most High God.

–Robert W. Wall, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 10 (2002), 235

Notably, one house church in Philippi met at the home of St. Lydia (a woman, obviously), a Gentile.  The other house church met in the home of the jailer.

Paul’s strategic acceptance of their apology (16:39) suggests a reversal of power that has become an important political matter only after the households of faith have been established in Philippi.  The proper role of civil authority is not to dictate terms so that the church becomes yet another institution of its power.  Rather civil authority is now obliged to safeguard the deposit of faith in their city as an institution of divine power (cf. Rom. 13:1-7).  Luke’s portrait of Rome in Acts is of the inability of secular authority to subvert the work of God’s salvation in the world.

–Robert W. Wall, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 10 (2002), 236

The separation of religion and state (in the best interest of religion and of religious institutions, by the way) did not exist in St. Paul’s time, hence the events of Acts 17:1-15.

“The people who have been turning the whole world upside down have come here now….”

–Acts 17:6b, The Jerusalem Bible

These critics were wrong.  The people turning the world right side up.  The world was upside down already.  The Lucan Beatitudes and Woes (Luke 6:20f) made that point clearly.

When we mere mortals, accustomed and acculturated to the status quo, fail to understand that the world is upside down, we may react negatively to those turning the world right side up.  Not one of us is immune to this moral blindness.

THEOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY

The relationship of Christianity to philosophy has sometimes been a fraught topic.  St. Clement of Alexandria (died circa 210) defended the validity of Greek philosophy (especially that of Plato) in Christianity.  St. Clement, the “Pioneer of Christian Scholarship,” accepted secular knowledge as valid; the truth was the truth.  Period.  After more than a millennium of favoring Platonism, Holy Mother Church switched to the thought of Aristotle in the Middle Ages.  St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) would have rejoiced to have lived long enough to witness this change, which he helped to effect.  St. Clement of Alexandria became a heretic post mortem and ex post facto.  Eventually, Rome revoked his pre-congregation canonization.

For the record, I like both Sts. Clement of Alexandria and St. Thomas Aquinas.

I have conversed with fundamentalists who have chafed at philosophy as something that informs theology.  When I mentioned the Greek philosophy in the New Testament (especially Acts 17:16-34 and throughout the Letter to the Hebrews), I prompted greater irritation.  Facts be damned; I changed no minds.

St. Paul used whatever was available to him in service to his mission.  In Athens, Greece, for example, he stood on common ground with the Stoics and the Epicureans when he proclaimed that God, not captured in human sanctuaries, does not need human worship.  St. Paul even quoted the Stoic philosopher Epimenies of Knossos when the Apostle decreed:

…it is in him that we live, and move, and exist….

–Acts 17:28, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Yet the Apostle argued against other aspects of Stoicism and Epicureanism.  Against Stoicism, he rejected pantheism and asserted the existence of one transcendent creator who sustains everything.  St. Paul also replaced the endless cycles in Stoicism with doomsday.  Against Epicureanism, he countered deism with God being intimately involved with creation.

St. Paul worked within circumstances.  He was not a systematic theologian.  Therefore, he contradicted himself sometimes.  (Newsflash:  People do contradict themselves.)  He spoke philosophically in Athens, Greece, but did not dictate philosophically in 1 Corinthians (see chapter 1).  The manner of how he spoke, dictated, and wrote depended on who the audience was and what the circumstances were.

CONCLUSION

The account of St. Paul’s Second Missionary Journey tells of his successes and his failures.  Nobody can succeed all the time.  Success depends greatly on the receptiveness (or lack thereof) of the audience.  As St. Teresa of Calcutta (d. 1997) said, God calls us to be faithful, not successful.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 26, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COWPER, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT ADELARD OF CORBIE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND ABBOT; AND HIS PROTÉGÉ, SAINT PASCAHSIUS RADBERTUS, FRANKISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF ROBERT HUNT, FIRST ANGLICAN CHAPLAIN AT JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA

THE FEAST OF RUGH BYLLESBY, EPISCOPAL DEACONESS IN GEORGIA

THE FEAST OF SAINT STANISLAW KUBITSA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1940; AND SAINT WLADYSLAW GORAL, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP AND MARTYR, 1945

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM STRINGFELLOW, EPISCOPAL ATTORNEY, THEOLOGIAN, AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST

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The Fulfillment of the Promise of Easter   1 comment

Above:  Pentecost Dove

Image Scanned from a Church Bulletin

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Exodus 19:1-9 or Acts 2:1-11

Psalm 33:12-22 (LBW) or Psalm 130 (LBW) or Psalm 98 (LW)

Romans 8:14-17, 22-27

John 7:37-39a

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Almighty and ever-living God,

you fulfilled the promise of Easter

by sending your Holy Spirit to unite the races and nations on earth

and thus to proclaim your glory. 

Look upon your people gathered in prayer,

open to receive the Spirit’s flame. 

May it come to rest in our hearts

and heal the divisions of word and tongue,

that with one voice and one song

we may praise your name in joy and thanksgiving;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 23

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O God, on this day you once taught the hearts of your faithful people

by sending a right understanding in all things

and evermore to rejoice in his holy consolation;

through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you in communion with the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982)

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The Episcopal, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic traditions provide for the Vigil of Pentecost, a service I have never had the opportunity to attend.  Page 227 of The Book of Common Prayer (1979) contains a rubric regarding the vigil.  The Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), Lutheran Worship (1982), and Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006) offer collects and readings for the Vigil of Easter.  The Lutheran Service Book (2006), which offers no collects in the pew edition, includes readings for this vigil.

The Vigil of Pentecost was popular during the Middle Ages.  It was one of the favored occasions for baptism.  Continental Protestant reformers rejected this vigil in the 1500s; they restored the liturgical primacy of Sunday.

Yet here we are, with Lutherans approving the celebration of the Vigil of Pentecost.  Liturgical renewal, blessed by thy name!

The theme of unity carries over from the readings for the preceding Sunday.  The faith community gathers in expectation of the fulfillment of divine promises, including the “promise of Easter,” to quote the collect from the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978).

God is the central actor, despite the anthropocentric tendencies of much of human theology.  That God is central should cause much thanksgiving and place human egos in proper context.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 26, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COWPER, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT ADELARD OF CORBIE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND ABBOT; AND HIS PROTÉGÉ, SAINT PASCAHSIUS RADBERTUS, FRANKISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF ROBERT HUNT, FIRST ANGLICAN CHAPLAIN AT JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA

THE FEAST OF RUGH BYLLESBY, EPISCOPAL DEACONESS IN GEORGIA

THE FEAST OF SAINT STANISLAW KUBITSA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1940; AND SAINT WLADYSLAW GORAL, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP AND MARTYR, 1945

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM STRINGFELLOW, EPISCOPAL ATTORNEY, THEOLOGIAN, AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST

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Adapted from this post

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The Council of Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  St. James of Jerusalem

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART LXVIII

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Acts 15:1-35

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For another slightly different version of the Council of Jerusalem, read Galatians 2:1-10.

This was a turning point.  In the Gospel of Matthew, the ministry of Jesus was to Jews, until chapter 28, when the ministry widened to include Gentiles in its scope.  After Acts 15, St. Luke wrote of the Christian mission first to Gentiles.  And, consistent with a Lucan motif, the Holy Spirit guided the Council of Jerusalem and subsequent evangelism.

Gentiles did not have to convert to Judaism and keep the Law of Moses to become Christians.  This seemed odd; Christianity remained a Jewish sect at the time of the composition of Luke-Acts (circa 85 C.E.).

I, having written about Judaizers in the context of Pauline passages many times, choose not repeat those comments on that point here and now.  Everything germane is here at BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

In history, the greatest answer to question is,

So what?

Supposing that one has written accurately and neither cherry-picked nor proof-texted, so what?  Why does one text matter?  In this case, the question pertains to conflicts within the Church.  What should people and what do people do when tradition and experience collide?  What they should do is not always what they do, sadly.  The proper application of timeless principles depends on circumstances, for real life plays out in circumstances.  When the proper decision results, the Holy Spirit is at work.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 24, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR C

GENOCIDE REMEMBRANCE

THE FEAST OF SAINT EGBERT OF LINDISFARNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK; AND SAINT ADALBERT OF EGMONT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT FIDELIS OF SIGMARINGEN, CAPUCHIN FRIAR AND MYSTIC, 1622

THE FEAST OF JAKOB BÖHME, GERMAN LUTHERAN MYSTIC

THE FEAST OF JOHANN WALTER, “FIRST CANTOR OF THE LUTHERAN CHURCH”

THE FEAST OF SAINT MELLITUS, BISHOP OF LONDON, AND ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

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Spiritual Unity   1 comment

Above:  Church Row, Louvale, Georgia

Image Source = Google Earth

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Acts 1:(1-7) 8-14

Psalm 47 (LBW) or Psalm 133 (LW)

1 Peter 4:12-17; 5:6-11

John 17:1-11

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Almighty and eternal God,

your Son our Savior is with you in eternal glory. 

Give us faith to see that, true to his promise,

he is among us still, and will be with us to the end of time;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

OR

God, our creator and redeemer,

your Son Jesus prayed that his followers might be one. 

Make all Christians one with him as he is with you,

so that in peace and concord

we may carry to the world the message of your love;

through Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 23

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O King of glory, Lord of hosts,

uplifted in triumph above all heavens,

we pray, leave us not without consolation,

but send us the Spirit of truth,

whom you promised from the Father;

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 57

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My theme in this post is unity.

John 17:1-11 opens with the Johannine definition of eternal life (knowing God via Jesus) and concludes with another Johannine motif–spiritual indwelling.

Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are.

–John 17:11b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

In the Gospel of John, Jesus dwells in the Father.  Christians dwell in Jesus, therefore, they dwell in the Father.

In John 17:11b, the prayer is that God will keep the disciples as a unity, not as units–that the unity of the faith community will mirror the unity of Jesus and the Father.

Spiritual unity and organic unity differ.  One can exist in the absence of the other one.  Denominations or congregations may cooperate harmoniously while bitter infighting divides a denomination or congregation.  Organic unity may not always be desirable or feasible, but ecumenical cooperation may be effective.

Psalm 133 opens:

Oh, how good and pleasant it is when brethren live together in unity.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

One subtext to this may be hopes for the reunion of the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah.  If so, we have an example of another dashed hope.  One may also recall the argumentative house churches in Corinth, thanks to epistles from St. Paul the Apostle.

Spiritual unity is a noble goal.  Yet I know from experience that it is frequently elusive on the small scale.  Within my family, for example, I feel as if I exist on a parallel spiritual track, even to the other professing, practicing Christians to whom I am related.  I own a tee-shirt that reads,

HERETIC.

I wear it with pride and defiance.  I also belong to a congregation that suffered a schism in 2012, before I moved to town.  And, as I write these words, my childhood denomination, The United Methodist Church, is proving that “Untied Methodist Church” is far more than a typographical error.  This contemporary manifestation of Donatism grieves me.

Such is life.  The ideal of spiritual unity persists.  It beckons.  How many of us are paying attention?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 24, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR C

GENOCIDE REMEMBRANCE

THE FEAST OF SAINT EGBERT OF LINDISFARNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK; AND SAINT ADALBERT OF EGMONT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT FIDELIS OF SIGMARINGEN, CAPUCHIN FRIAR AND MYSTIC, 1622

THE FEAST OF JAKOB BÖHME, GERMAN LUTHERAN MYSTIC

THE FEAST OF JOHANN WALTER, “FIRST CANTOR OF THE LUTHERAN CHURCH”

THE FEAST OF SAINT MELLITUS, BISHOP OF LONDON, AND ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

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Adapted from this post

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St. Paul’s First Missionary Journey   Leave a comment

Above:  St. Paul the Apostle

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART LXVII

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Acts 13:1-14:28

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Terminology and context matter.  A reading of Acts 13:1-14:28 reveals a few mentions of “the Jews.”  Recall, O reader, that Sts. (Joseph) Barnabas and Paul the Apostle were Jewish.  Remember, also, that many of the people they converted were Jews.  “The Jews,” therefore, refers to Jews hostile to Christianity–sometimes, violently so.

We have the same issue in the Gospel of John, a book with mostly Jewish characters and composed during a time of conflict between Jewish Americans and non-Christian Jews.  Another wrinkle in the Johannine Gospel, though, is that “the Judeans” may be the correct translation sometimes.

The hostility of “the Jews” toward Christian Jews and Sts. Paul and Barnabas, in particular, should inspire spiritual examination in the reader or listener.  I think of the shameful record of violence Christians have committed in the name of Christ against Jews, Muslims, other Christians, and other people.  I understand that I am not immune to the dark side of human nature.  How dare I fall into complacent self-righteousness and mistake myself for someone who would never commit or condone such an act, given different circumstances?

Such violence arises from hatred, which flows from fear, which comes from a lack of understanding.  Such violence also indicates the severity of the perceived threat Sts. Paul and Barnabas allegedly posed.

We also notice a pattern in evangelism–taking the message to the Jews first then to the pagans.  This is consistent with St. Paul’s outreach to Gentiles while including Jews in his mission.

For St. Paul, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus ended one epoch and inaugurated another one.  Therefore, in his mind, outreach to the Jewish population made sense.

We read of two miraculous works–a healing and a blinding.  I am happy for the man born crippled, for I rejoice in his healing.  Yet I cannot rejoice in the blinding of Elymas Magus (Bar-Jesus), a magician and a false prophet.  The physical blindness indicated spiritual blindness, mixed with fear of losing influence with Proconsul Sergius Paulus.

Perhaps the magician’s temporary blindness is a metaphor of the failure he and others like him have in blinding people to the course of God’s salvation.

–Robert W. Wall, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 10 (2002), 190

A relevant matter is the name “Bar-Jesus.”  “Jesus” is simply “Joshua,” a common name.  Yet the irony of “Son of Joshua” opposing nascent Christianity is ironic.  We read that St. Paul described Bar-Jesus as

son of the devil

instead.  The implication here is that opposition to the Gospel was a moral failing.  We readers are supposed to recall the conflict between Jesus and Satan and evil spirits in the Gospel of Luke.  Also, we are supposed to contrast St. Paul, blinded on the road to Damascus, with Elymas/Bar-Jesus.

Speaking of the name “Bar-Jesus,” another rendering is “Bariesou,” similar to “Barieu,” or “wrongdoer.”

Luke-Acts dates to circa 85 C.E.  Recall, O reader, that Gentiles were the intended audience.  Consider, also, the rising tensions between Christians (both Jews and Gentiles) and non-Christian Jews at the time.  Read in context, we may reasonably guess how members of the original audience related Acts 13:1-14:28 to their lives.

This seems like an appropriate setting in which to repeat myself from previous posts:

  1. Judaism at the time understood that God accepted righteous Gentiles.
  2. Luke-Acts documented some Gentiles who had positive relationships with their local Jewish communities.
  3. Intra-Jewish arguments occurred in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.
  4. Anti-Semitism has always been wrong.
  5. Legalists have always distorted non-legalistic religions.

I have made these points in writing many times.  I tire of the necessity of repetition, but I feel obligated to commit it sometimes, just in case someone has missed all of the ten zillion times I have condemned anti-Semitism, for example.

Recall the Parable of the Mustard Seed, O reader.  The Kingdom of God is like a really big weed–an unwanted plant, by definition–derived from a tiny seed.  The Kingdom of God goes where it will.  I live in Georgia, so I understand the “kudzu theory” of the Kingdom of God.  This kingdom’s shape may not necessarily be what one expects, but the kingdom is present and tenacious.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 23, 2022 COMMON ERA

SATURDAY IN EASTER WEEK

THE FEAST OF TOYOHIKO KAGAWA, RENEWER OF SOCIETY AND PROPHETIC WITNESS IN JAPAN

THE FEAST OF MARTIN RINCKART, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA MARIA OF THE CROSS, FOUNDER OF THE CARMELITE SISTERS OF SAINT TERESA OF FLORENCE

THE FEAST OF WALTER RUSSELL BOWIE, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, SEMINARY PROFESSOR, AND HYMN WRITER

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Enthronement   1 comment

Above:  Icon of the Ascension of Christ

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Acts 1:1-11

Psalm 110

Ephesians 1:16-23

Luke 24:44-53

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Almighty God, your only Son was taken up into heaven

and in power intercedes for us. 

May we also come into your presence

and live forever in your glory;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 22

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Grant, we pray, almighty God,

that even as we believe your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,

to have ascended into heaven,

so may also in heart and mind ascend and continually

dwell there with him;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 55-56

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Luke-Acts is a composite work.  Given this fact, the discrepancy in the timing of the Ascension confuses me.  Luke 24 places the Ascension on the same day as the Resurrection.  Yet Acts 1 times it forty days after the Resurrection and ten days before Pentecost.  O, well.

By the 300s, the Feast of the Ascension our Lord, set forty days after Easter Day, was commonplace.  St. Augustine of Hippo wrote that churches

all over the world

celebrated the feast.

I understand the Ascension as theological poetry, not theological prose, because of science.  I accept that, one day, Jesus was present with his Apostles until he left.  Given cultural and theological assumptions of the time, we have the metaphor of ascension.  May we–you, O reader, and I–not become lost in technical details.

The Feast of the Ascension is about enthronement–of Jesus, mainly.  It is about the enthronement of humanity itself.  To quote St. John Chrysostom:

Our very nature…is enthroned today high above all cherubim.

Happy Ascension Day!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 23, 2022 COMMON ERA

SATURDAY IN EASTER WEEK

THE FEAST OF TOYOHIKO KAGAWA, RENEWER OF SOCIETY AND PROPHETIC WITNESS IN JAPAN

THE FEAST OF MARTIN RINCKART, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA MARIA OF THE CROSS, FOUNDER OF THE CARMELITE SISTERS OF SAINT TERESA OF FLORENCE

THE FEAST OF WALTER RUSSELL BOWIE, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, SEMINARY PROFESSOR, AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post

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Herod Agrippa I’s Persecution of Christians   Leave a comment

Above:  Herod Agrippa I

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART LXVI

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Acts 12:1-25

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Herod Agrippa I was a Roman client king from 37 to 44 C.E.  We have another, more precise, dated detail–the martyrdom of St. James Bar-Zebedee (the brother of Saint John the Evangelist and a first cousin of Jesus–circa 44 C.E,

Herod Agrippa (10 B.C.E.-44 C.E.) was a grandson of Herod the Great, the brother of Herodias, the uncle of Salome, and a brother-in-law of Herod Antipas.  Herod Agrippa I, who lived extravagantly and in debt, found refuge courtesy of Herod Antipas, who appointed him the inspector of markets in Antipas’s new capital, Tiberias, circa 27 C.E.  Herod Agrippa I, a friend of Gaius Caligula, made a pro-Caligula remark in the presence of Emperor Tiberius in Rome six months prior to the death of Tiberius (d. 37 C.E.)  Therefore, Herod Agrippa I spent the last six months of Tiberius’s reign as a prisoner.  Caligula (reigned 37-41 C.E.) released Herod Agrippa I and appointed him a king in 37 C.E.  After Caligula died, Emperor Claudis (I) expanded Herod Agrippa I’s territory to include Judea and Samaria.  Herod Agrippa I, a supporter of Pharisaic Judaism, persecuted Christianity (Acts 2 and 12).  His death in Caesarea (Acts 12:22-23) was sudden.  The Biblical text wrote of his death so as to portray him as evil and unrepentant, in the infamous footsteps of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and Judas Iscariot.

Regardless of martyrdoms and persecution, the Christian movement remained unhindered.

Meanwhile, Sts. (Joseph) Barnabas and Paul the Apostle returned to Antioch from Jerusalem.  This relief mission complete, they brought St. (John) Mark to Antioch.

I feel sorry for the guards Herod Agrippa I ordered executed.  They did their job guarding St. Simon Peter.  On the other hand, I am glad St. Simon Peter escaped.

The rest of the story:  A series of Roman procurators succeeded Herod Agrippa I until 66 C.E.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 22, 2022 COMMON ERA

FRIDAY IN EASTER WEEK

THE FEAST OF GENE BRITTON, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF DONALD S. ARMENTROUT, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF HADEWIJCH OF BRABERT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC

THE FEAST OF KATHE KOLLWITZ, GERMAN LUTHERAN ARTIST AND PACIFIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT VITALIS OF GAZA, MONK, HERMIT, AND MARTYR, CIRCA 625

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Christians at Antioch   Leave a comment

Above:  Athens Korean Presbyterian Church, Athens, Georgia

Image Source = Google Earth

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART LXV

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Acts 11:19-30

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Roman historians documented droughts throughout the Roman Empire during the reign (41-54 C.E.) of Emperor Claudius (I).  The germane drought may have been the one that struck Judea in 46-48 C.E.

We read of the mixed (Jewish and Gentile) Christian community at Antioch.  We also read of why St. (Joseph) Barnabas was the “son of encouragement,” especially regarding St. Paul the Apostle.  And we read of the mixed Christian community at Antioch demonstrating concern for their Jewish Christian brethren at Jerusalem.  This final point is crucial, given the tensions of which I wrote in the previous post in this series.

Focusing on what we have in common, not that which divides us, can be difficult sometimes.  I know; I have tried this strategy with some of my relatives.  The strategy only works when the only side reciprocates.  Therefore, I know the taste of failure in these efforts.

Some differences are irreconcilable.  I belong to Calvary Episcopal Church, the only congregation in Sumter County, Georgia, to which I can feasibly belong.  If I had to belong to any other church in this county, I would starve spiritually and feel like an outcast.  Spiritual types are real; so be it.  But differences need not transmogrify into hostility.  A level of mutual affection may flourish, too.

Before I moved to Americus, Georgia, I lived in Athens-Clarke County, and belonged to Saint Gregory the Great Episcopal Church.  About a mile up the road, the local Korean Presbyterian congregation had moved into its new building.  The Korean Presbyterians needed a new sign yet could not afford it.  Our pianist/organist, who taught piano to children of some of Korean Presbyterians, created a fund for a new sign for the Athens Korean Presbyterian Church and encouraged Gregorians to donate to it.  People were generous, and the Korean Presbyterian congregation purchased their new sign.

In contemporary terms, organic union may not always be feasible, but ecumenism may thrive.  If we focus on what unites us–Jesus–we will do well.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 22, 2022 COMMON ERA

FRIDAY IN EASTER WEEK

THE FEAST OF GENE BRITTON, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF DONALD S. ARMENTROUT, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF HADEWIJCH OF BRABERT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC

THE FEAST OF KATHE KOLLWITZ, GERMAN LUTHERAN ARTIST AND PACIFIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT VITALIS OF GAZA, MONK, HERMIT, AND MARTYR, CIRCA 625

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