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Human Doubts and the Mighty Acts of God   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of St. John the Baptist

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Most loving Father, who would have us give thanks for all things

and dread nothing but the loss of thee:

preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties;

and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the

light of thy love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 117

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Jeremiah 23:3-8

Philippians 4:4-7

Luke 1:26-38

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The readings for this Sunday speak of corrupt rulers, the promise of divine deliverance of the nation, the restoration of exiles to their homeland, the practice of making considering for others a defining characteristic of oneself, the practice of trusting in God, and of the conception of Jesus and the annunciation of that event.  That is quite a variety of material.  Much of it speaks for itself.  Obviously the lectionary points toward linking Jeremiah 23 to Luke 1, with Philippians 4 providing commentary.

Instead of checking off all the above items in this post as I continue to write, I prefer to focus on one line:

For nothing is impossible with God.

–Luke 1:37, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Do you, O reader, affirm that?  Do I?

I speak, er, write for myself, the only person for whom I can do so.  A rationalist lives between my ears and behind my eyes.  I am one of the people most likely to ask pesky, inconvenient questions, and one of the least likely join a cult.  St. Thomas the Apostle, the great doubter, is my favorite Biblical character, for I identify with his skepticism.  One of the reasons I am an Episcopalian is the premium Anglican theology places on reason, in the context of scripture and tradition, for balance.  I am an intellectual, not a mystic.  I possess a healthy dose of skepticism.  Nevertheless, I also affirm the necessity of Kierkegaardian leaps of faith.  Such a leap of faith is necessary for one to accept the Incarnation, regardless of whether one affirms of rejects the Virgin Birth.

Yes, I affirm that nothing is impossible with God.  I affirm it more on some days and less on others.  My faith is a work in progress.  I bring my doubts to God; doing that constitutes an act of faith.  God, as I understand Him, does not strike anyone down for asking questions faithfully and honestly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 22, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK PRATT GREEN, BRITISH METHODIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOMEW ZOUBERBUHLER, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF EMILY HUNTINGTON MILLER, U.S. METHODIST AUTHOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF KATHARINA VON SCHLEGAL, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

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Eschatological Ethics III: Passing Judgment   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of St. John the Baptist

Image in the Public Domain

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

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O Lord, keep us watchful for the appearing of thy beloved Son,

and grant that, in all the changes of this world, we may be strengthened by thy steadfast love;

through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with

thee and the Holy Spirit be glory, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 117

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Jeremiah 33:14-16

1 Corinthians 3:18-4:5

Matthew 3:1-11

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Until God ushers in Matthew’s Kingdom of Heaven–the fully realized rule of God on Earth, replacing corrupt systems and institutions, the question of eschatological ethics remains current and germane.

We read some of St. Paul the Apostle’s advice in 1 Corinthians 4–pass no premature judgment.  We also read St. John Baptist’s critique of many Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 3–

Brood of vipers.

I propose that St. John’s judgment was not premature, but based on evidence.

One might supplement St. Paul’s counsel with that of Christ in Matthew 7:1-5 (The New Jerusalem Bible, 1985):

Do not judge, and you will not be judged; because the judgements you give will be the judgements you get, and the standard you use will be the standard used for you.  Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the great log in your own?  And how dare you say to your brother, “Let me take that splinter out of your eye,” when, look, there is a great log in your own?  Hypocrite!  Take the log out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.

One who knows the Bible well can think of examples of various Hebrew prophets, Jesus, and St. Paul issuing judgments, usually while speaking with authority from God.  However, one must, if one is to be intellectually honest, admit that some judgments are wrong, in more than one way.

“Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.” That testimony is true.

–Titus 1:12b-13a, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Whether St. Paul affirmed that nasty statement about Cretans or someone writing in his name did remains a matter of scholarly debate.  The unfortunate statement exists within the canon of the New Testament, though.

Sometimes we must make judgments–ones based on objective evidence.  To call a spade a spade, so to speak; to condemn injustice; to speak truth to power; is a moral imperative.  True statements are neither slanderous nor libelous.  Cynical people and desperate partisans in a state of denial may call true statements “fake news,” but objective truth is never fake.  As John Adams observed,

Facts are stubborn things.

James 3:1-12 offers timeless advice regarding the use of the tongue; we have a moral duty to control it.  That counsel also applies to the written word and to social media.  Condemning the unjustifiable is appropriate, but ruining reputations and lives without evidence is always wrong.  It is also commonplace, unfortunately.

“Brood of vipers” indeed!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 22, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK PRATT GREEN, BRITISH METHODIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOMEW ZOUBERBUHLER, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF EMILY HUNTINGTON MILLER, U.S. METHODIST AUTHOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF KATHARINA VON SCHLEGAL, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

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Eschatological Ethics II   2 comments

Above:  Countryside Dramatic Evening

Image in the Public Domain

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

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O God, who didst prepare of old the minds and hearts of men for the coming of thy Son,

and whose Spirit ever worketh to illumine our darkened lives with the light of his gospel:

prepare now our minds and hearts, we beseech thee, that Christ may dwell within us,

and ever reign in our thoughts and affections as the King of love and the very Prince of peace.

Grant this, we pray thee, for his sake.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 117

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Isaiah 33:17-22

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 25:14-29

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Readings for early Advent frequently have an apocalyptic tone.  In this sense they continue from the last four Sundays prior to Advent in many lectionaries.  I know from reading that, in parts of Confessional Lutheranism, the last four Sundays are the End Time Season.  I also hear of some congregations that keep eight–not four–Sundays of Advent, by folding the End Time Season Sundays into Advent.  That plan makes sense to me.

Hopefully one understanding that we are dealing with the end of one age and the beginning of another age, not the end of the world or time.  Science tells me that the world will end in the far future, when the Sun expands and either engulfs it or burns it.  Time, I presume, will continue.

The issue du jour is eschatological ethics.  As we wait for the Day of the Lord–in the Gospel of Matthew, the dawning of the Kingdom of Heaven–when the fully realized rule of God will replace all corrupt, exploitative human systems and institutions–how should we live?  The answer is that we should reject immorality and fearful inaction.  We should be bold and take risks, for the glory of God.  We should double down on holy living.  “We,” of course, is plural; societies, institutions, governments, et cetera, stand in need of reform just as much as you and I do, O reader.  Eschatological ethics are both collective and individual.

We–collectively and individually–have work to do.  It is a great responsibility.  Shall we labor faithfully, for God and the benefit of others?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 22, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK PRATT GREEN, BRITISH METHODIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOMEW ZOUBERBUHLER, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF EMILY HUNTINGTON MILLER, U.S. METHODIST AUTHOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF KATHARINA VON SCHLEGAL, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

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Eschatological Ethics I: Living in Exile at Home   Leave a comment

Above:  The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

Image in the Public Domain

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

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O God, whose throne is set eternal in the heavens:

make ready for thy gracious rule the kingdoms of this world, and come with haste, and save us;

that violence and crying may be no more, and righteousness and peace may less thy children;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 117

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Zechariah 10:6-12

Romans 13:8-10

Matthew 21:1-13

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Reading of our Lord and Savior’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Advent may seem odd to some, but not to many members of the Moravian Church.  That denomination has a tradition of using the same liturgy for Palm Sunday and the First Sunday of Advent.  The theme of the arrival of the Messiah unites the two occasions.

The theme of being in exile at home unites Zechariah 10:6-12 and Matthew 21:1-13.  In this matter I acknowledge the influence of N. T. Wright, author of Jesus and the Victory of God (1996) on my thinking.

Zechariah is a book in two separate sections:  First Zechariah (Chapters 1-8) and Second Zechariah (Chapters 9-14).  First Zechariah is historically related to and concurrent with Haggai (both chapters of it), and dates, in its current state, from no later than 515 B.C.E.  Second Zechariah, from the late Persian period, dates, in its current state, from the middle 400s B.C.E.

The Persian Empire of that period was hardly an onerous taskmaster of Jews living within its borders.  There were ups and downs, of course, but Persians were, overall, much better to live under than the Assyrians and the Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians.  Nevertheless, in the context of the militarization of the western satrapies during the Greco-Persian wars and the slow economic recovery in the Jewish homeland, many Jews dwelling in their homeland must have felt as if they were in a sort of exile.  Where was the promised Davidic monarch prophets had predicted?

And where was the promised Davidic monarch in the first century C.E., when the Roman Empire ruled the Jewish homeland and a Roman fortress was next door to the Second Temple?  Roman occupation must have felt like a sort of exile to many Jews living in their homeland.

And where was the promised Kingdom of God/Heaven in 85 C.E. and later, after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman Empire in 70 C.E.?  The Kingdom of God was simultaneously of the present and the future–a partially realized reign and realm of God on Earth, but the Kingdom of Heaven was the promised fully realized reign and realm of God on Earth.  (I refer you, O reader, to Jonathan Pennington‘s dismantling of the Dalman consensus, or the ubiquitous argument that, in the Gospel of Matthew, “Kingdom of Heaven” is a reverential circumlocution.)

For that matter, where is the promised Kingdom of Heaven today?  We of 2018 live in exile while at home.  Only God can usher in the Kingdom of Heaven.

We can, however, live ethically, both collectively and individually.  Love, after all, is the fulfillment of the Law.  May we, therefore, strive to live (both collectively and individually) according to the Golden Rule, and not make a mockery of that commandment by citing doctrine and dogma to excuse violations of it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 22, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK PRATT GREEN, BRITISH METHODIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOMEW ZOUBERBUHLER, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF EMILY HUNTINGTON MILLER, U.S. METHODIST AUTHOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF KATHARINA VON SCHLEGAL, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

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Rich Irony   3 comments

Above:  Part of the Title Page of The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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There is a liturgical joke that highlights certain denominational differences.

In a county seat town somewhere in the United States of America, the First Baptist Church was hosting the annual community Thanksgiving service.  The local Episcopal priest was one of the participating ministers.  When the priest’s role in the service had come, the host pastor said,

Now Father Jones from the Episcopal church will lead us in one of his…written prayers.

Father Jones walked up to the pulpit and said,

Let us pray.  Our Father, which art in heaven….

I was thinking of that story, which could be true, even if it is not, because of an ironic written prayer I read on page 202, from the “Other Prayers for Worship” section of The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972), from the mainline of U.S. Presbyterianism:

For Those Who Write Prayers

Almighty God:  you have no patience with solemn assemblies, or heaped-up prayers to be heard by men.  Forgive those who have written prayers for congregations.  Remind them that their foolish words will pass away, but that your word will last and be fulfilled, in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

This prayer, indicating a traditionally Puritan Presbyterian hostility to written prayers and to prayer books, exists in the same volume as many written prayers for congregations to use.

I find this matter rather amusing and theologically alien to me, for I belong to The Episcopal Church, which has a rich and unapologetic record of written prayers–Books of Common Prayer, even–reaching back through the corridors of time to The Book of Common Prayer (1549) and deeper into the past, to missals and the Liturgy of the Hours, and before that, to The Didache.  If one does not approve of written prayers for congregational use, one can avoid them, but hopefully such a person will avoid the hypocrisy of writing or using a written prayer asking divine forgiveness for those who write prayers for congregational use.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 20, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PHILIP SCHAFF AND JOHN WILLIAMSON NEVIN, U.S. GERMAN REFORMED HISTORIANS, THEOLOGIANS, AND LITURGISTS

THE FEAST OF FRIEDRICH FUNCKE, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, COMPOSER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MARY A. LATHBURY, U.S. METHODIST HYMN WRITER

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Gratitude, Part III   1 comment

Above:  The Healing of Ten Lepers, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

THANKSGIVING DAY (U.S.A.)

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Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season,

and for the labors of those who harvest them.

Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty,

for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need,

to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord,

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

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 701

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Joel 2:21-27

Psalm 150

1 Timothy 2:1-7

Matthew 6:25-33

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Since antiquity and in cultures from many parts of the Earth harvest festivals have been occasions of thanksgiving.  In the United States of America, where the first national observance of Thanksgiving occurred in 1863, the November date has related to the harvest feast in Plymouth in 1621.  Prior to 1863 some U.S. states had an annual thanksgiving holiday, and there was a movement for the national holiday.  Liturgically the occasion has remained tied to harvest festivals, although the meaning of the holiday has been broader since 1863.  The Episcopal Church has observed its first Book of Common Prayer in 1789.  Nationwide Thanksgiving Day has become part of U.S. civil religion and an element of commercialism, which might actually be the primary sect of civil religion in the United States.  The Almighty Dollar attracts many devotees.

Too easily and often this holiday deteriorates into an occasion to gather with relatives while trying (often in vain) to avoid shouting matches about politics and/or religion, or to watch television, or to be in some other awkward situation.  The holiday means little to me; I find it inherently awkward.  This state of affairs is the result of my youth, when my family and I, without relatives nearby, witnessed many of our neighbors hold family reunions on the holiday.  Thanksgiving Day, therefore, reminds me of my lifelong relative isolation.

Nevertheless, I cannot argue with the existence of occasions to focus on gratitude to God.  The Bible teaches us in both Testaments that we depend entirely on God, depend on each other, are responsible to and for each other, and have no right to exploit each other.  The key word is mutuality, not individualism.  I embrace the focus on this ethos.

A spiritual practice I find helpful is to thank God throughout each day, from the time I awake to the time I go to bed.  Doing so helps one recognize how fortunate one is.  The electrical service is reliable.  The breeze is pleasant.  The sunset is beautiful.  Reading is a great pleasure.  The list is so long that one can never reach the end of it, but reaching the end of that list is not the goal anyway.  No, the goal is to be thankful and to live thankfully.

Too often we forget to be grateful.  Too often we are like the nine lepers in Luke 17:11-19 who neglected to thank Jesus for healing them.  Too seldom we are like the sole former leper who expressed gratitude to Jesus.

I refrain from reducing piety to more good manners, but good manners, expressed to God, are healthy spiritual practices.  Certainly thanking God throughout each day will improve one’s life in God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 18, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF DAG HAMMARSKJÖLD, SECRETARY-GENERAL OF THE UNITED NATIONS

THE FEAST OF EDWARD BOUVERIE PUSEY, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF HENRY LASCALLES JENNER, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND

THE FEAST OF JOHN CAMPBELL SHAIRP, SCOTTISH POET AND EDUCATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/09/18/devotion-for-thanksgiving-day-u-s-a-year-a-humes/

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Posted September 18, 2018 by neatnik2009 in 1 Timothy 2, Joel 2, Luke 17, Matthew 6, Psalm 150

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Christ the King, Part III   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Christ Pantocrator

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY:  THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, THE KING OF THE UNIVERSE

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

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Psalm 100

Ephesians 1:15-23

Matthew 25:31-46

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Christ the King Sunday, originally established in the Roman Catholic Church opposite Reformation Sunday, was the creation of Pope Pius XI in 1925.  The rise of fascism and other forms of dictatorship in Europe between World Wars I and II was the context for the creation of this feast.  The feast, in full,

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe,

has been the Sunday preceding Advent since Holy Mother Church revised its calendar in 1969.  The feast became part of many Lutheran and Anglican calendars during the 1970s, as part of liturgical revision.  In much of U.S. Methodism Christ the King Sunday used to fall on the last Sunday in August, at the end of the Season after Pentecost and leading into Kingdomtide.  Christ the King Sunday, set immediately prior to Advent, has become ubiquitous in Western Christianity.

The term “Christ the King” works well for me, for Jesus was male.  I have seen the alternative term “Reign of Christ,” an example of unnecessary linguistic neutering.  I have also wondered about the use of the language of monarchy in a world with few monarchs than before, and about how many citizens of republics might relate to such terminology.  I have also noted that “Reign of Christ” does not allay any concerns related to the language of monarchy.

God is the king in Psalm 100, and Jesus is the king in Ephesians 1 and Matthew 25.  We read of negligent Hebrew kings in Ezekiel 34.  There we also read of the promised Messianic sovereign.  In Matthew 25 we read that the Son of Man (an apocalyptic term for, in this case, Jesus) expects us to take care of each other and will mete out both judgment and mercy.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

–John 14:15, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

Most of the readings for this Sunday are apocalyptic in tone.  Matthew 25:31-46 belongs to an apocalyptic section (set immediately prior to the crucifixion of Jesus) in that Gospel.  Ephesians (whoever wrote it) is probably from the 90s C.E., about the time of the composition of the Apocalypse of John (Revelation).  The promise of the Second Coming of Christ hangs over Ephesians 1:15-23.  The promise of a Messianic king in Ezekiel 34 is apocalyptic on its face.  The readings also fit well at the end of the Season after Pentecost and before Advent, when many of the readings are apocalyptic.

Apocalyptic literature is inherently hopeful, for it affirms that God will end the current, sinful, exploitative age and usher in a new age of justice–of heaven on Earth.  If one studies the Bible carefully, one recognizes the pattern of pushing dashed apocalyptic hopes forward in time–from the end of the Babylonian Exile to the time after Alexander the Great to the time of Jesus to the end of the first century C.E.  One, studying history, might also find this pattern since the end of the New Testament.  The list of times Jesus was allegedly supposed to have returned, according to a series of false prophets, is lengthy.

Nevertheless, Christ remains the King of the Universe, despite all appearances to the contrary.  God remains faithful to divine promises, and the apocalyptic hope for God to set the world right remains.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 18, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF DAG HAMMARSKJÖLD, SECRETARY-GENERAL OF THE UNITED NATIONS

THE FEAST OF EDWARD BOUVERIE PUSEY, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF HENRY LASCALLES JENNER, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND

THE FEAST OF JOHN CAMPBELL SHAIRP, SCOTTISH POET AND EDUCATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/09/18/devotion-for-proper-29-year-a-humes/

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