Archive for the ‘2 Corinthians 9’ Category

Gratitude   Leave a comment

Above:  Home to Thanksgiving, Circa 1867

Image Creator = Currier & Ives

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-pga-00780

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FOR THANKSGIVING DAY, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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O God, we praise you, we give you thanks for your bountiful providence,

for all the blessings and all the hopes of life.

Above all we praise and adore you for your unspeakable gift

in your only Son our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Let the memory of your goodness fill our hearts with joy and thankfulness to you;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 163

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Deuteronomy 8:7-18

Psalm 22

2 Corinthians 9:6-12

Luke 12:16-31

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The extravagant generosity of God, on whom we depend completely, is one theme in these assigned readings.  Another is the reality that grace, although free, is not cheap; it imposes certain obligations on its recipients.  Those who enter a land new to them must not imagine that they have succeeded by their own power when God has delivered them into that land.  One must never think vainly that life consists of the abundance of possessions.  One must trust in God in times of plenty as well as in times of scarcity.  One must help others as one is able.

For where your treasure is,

there your heart will be also.

–Luke 12:34, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Psalm 22 might seem like an odd pericope for Thanksgiving Day.  The text, a prayer for deliverance from a mortal illness, might remind one immediately of the crucifixion of Jesus (Mark 15:34), for example.  The psalm does take a turn toward gratitude early on, however.  The text is of a mixed mood until the end, when gratitude takes over.  The mixed mood of much of Psalm 22 is true to life.  We might feel forsaken by God, but we are probably not.  If we continue the spiritual struggle with despair long enough, we will understand that.  As we suffer, God keeps us company.  The light of God might seem brighter in the darkness, and we might find ourselves more grateful than we expected we would.  This is my experience.

A helpful spiritual practice I have adopted is to thank God for blessings throughout the day.  I do this quietly, in my non-demonstrative, introverted way.  I thank God that my car is consistently reliable, but especially at a particular moment.  I thank God that the sunlight shines beautifully on the Middle Oconee River.  I thank God that I enjoy reading good books–one particular book at a given moment, specifically.  I thank God that I have plenty of nutritious food readily available.  I thank God for many blessings over time.  Whatever is on my mind or in front of me dictates what I thank God for at any given moment.  I admit freely that I do not thank God as often as I should, but I continue to endeavor to become more mindful.  Anyhow, the goal is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, not to compile a comprehensive list, which would be impossible anyway.  I understand that I rely completely on God, who has provided abundantly.  The least I can do is to be grateful and act accordingly.

Where are our treasures?  May it be in God.  May we be grateful daily.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 15, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER AND MARTYR

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Respecting the Image of God in Others   1 comment

parable-of-the-wicked-servant

Above:  Parable of the Wicked Servant, by Domenico Fetti

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

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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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 15:1-18 or 19:15-21

Psalm 129

Matthew 18:1-14 (15-20) or Luke 9:46-50; 17:1-4

2 Corinthians 9:1-15

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The reading for this Sunday, taken together, proclaim the mandate of economic and legal justice, condemn lying in court, command forgiving penitents, order valuing the powerless and the vulnerable, and extol the virtues of generosity of spirit and of giving.  On the other hand, we read a prayer for God to destroy Israel’s enemies and a permission slip to dun foreigners.  What are we supposed to make of all this?

First I call attention to the presence of both collective and individual sins and virtues.  My Western culture, steeped in individualism, understands individual sins better than collective and institutional ones.  I know that, as a matter of history, many professing Christians have obsessed over personal peccadilloes to the exclusion or minimizing of societal sins.

My second point is the value of foreigners who bear the image of God.  Focusing just on the Hebrew Bible for a few minutes, I recall certain passages that depict somegoyim favorably:  Rahab the prostitute (Joshua 2:1-24 and 6:17-25), Ruth (Ruth 1-4), and Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-19).  And, of course, as one turns to the New Testament, one should think of the controversy regarding St. Paul the Apostle’s mission to the Gentiles.

Finally, forgiveness can be difficult, but it is the best policy.  According to a rule common among Jews at the time of Jesus, one was perfect if one forgave three times daily.  As we read in the Gospel readings, Jesus more than doubled that number, increasing it to seven.  (He affirmed spiritual challenges.)  Even if forgiving someone does not affect that person it changes for the better the one who forgives.  We also read in Matthew 7:1-5 that the standard we apply to others will be the standard God applies to us.  One might also consult Matthew 18:23-34, the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

I understand the desire for God to smite one’s foes.  I have prayed for such results.  I have also learned that praying for their repentance–for their benefit and that of others–is a better way to proceed.  Even our foes bear the image of God, after all.  God loves them too, correct?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 12, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARTIN DOBER, MORAVIAN BISHOP AND HYMN WRITER; JOHANN LEONHARD DOBER, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND BISHOP; AND ANNA SCHINDLER DOBER, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDITH CAVELL, NURSE AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT KENNETH OF SCOTLAND, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT NECTARIUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, ARCHBISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/devotion-for-the-sixth-sunday-of-easter-year-d/

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Spiritual Blindness, Part II   1 comment

mosaic

Above:  Mosaic, Church of the Multiplication, Tabgha, Israel

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

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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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 21:1-15 or 2 Kings 4:38-44

Psalm 49:(1-12) 13-20

Matthew 15:29-39; 16:10-12 or Mark 8:1-26

2 Corinthians 8:1-6 (7-15) 16-24

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Stories of a holy person feeding a multitude with a small amount of food and having leftovers rhyme, if you will, O reader, in the Bible.  This day we read an account of Elisha feeding 100 men and parallel stories of Jesus feeding 4000 men (plus uncounted women and children) in Matthew 15 and about 4000 people in Mark 8.  The mechanics of such feelings do not interest me, but the theological importance of them does.  The Kingdom of God is here, and we can perceive that reality, if we are spiritually attuned.  In the Kingdom of God one finds abundance for everyone; artificial scarcity is a human creation.

Meanwhile, in 2 Corinthians 8, St. Paul the Apostle is raising funds for the Church at Jerusalem.  This becomes explicit in Chapter 9.  He, quoting Exodus 16:18, originally about manna, makes a point about wealth, monetary and physical:

The one who had much did not have too much,

and the one who had little did not have too little.

–2 Corinthians 8:15, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

After all, we cannot take our money and possessions with us when we die.  In this life we ought to use them for positive purposes.  So, for example, if a rebel leader (David) pretending to be in the employ of King Saul needs bread for himself and his men takes the display bread reserved for priests to eat, the physical need overrides the ritual rules.  (Yet, in 1 Samuel 22, the lie had fatal consequences for the priests.)

In the Kingdom of God scarcity is absent.  So is the violence of someone such as King Saul.  The ways of God are not the ways of human beings, despite our repeated attempts to make God fit into our categories.  Part of this problem of attempting to make God fit into our categories is unavoidable, for, when we ponder God, we must do so from a human perspective.  It is the only way we can think about God.  Yet we must, if we are wise, recognize that our point of view is rather restricted.  Our perspective might be, for example, the spiritual blindness of the Apostles of the leaven of the Pharisees.  Reality is much broader than our narrow perspectives, we read.  Are we willing to open our spiritual eyes?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 12, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARTIN DOBER, MORAVIAN BISHOP AND HYMN WRITER; JOHANN LEONHARD DOBER, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND BISHOP; AND ANNA SCHINDLER DOBER, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDITH CAVELL, NURSE AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT KENNETH OF SCOTLAND, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT NECTARIUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, ARCHBISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/devotion-for-the-fifth-sunday-of-easter-year-d/

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The Faithfulness and Generosity of God, Part IV   1 comment

St. Titus

Above:  St. Titus

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God,

and open our ears to the preaching of John, that

rejoicing in your salvation, we may bring forth the fruits of repentance;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 19

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The Assigned Readings:

Amos 6:1-8 (Thursday)

Amos 8:4-12 (Friday)

Isaiah 12:2-6 (Both Days)

2 Corinthians 8:1-15 (Thursday)

2 Corinthians 9:1-15 (Friday)

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In that day, you shall say:

“I give thanks to You, O LORD!

Although You were wroth with me,

Your wrath has turned back and You comfort me,

Behold the God who gives me triumph!

I am confident, unafraid;

For Yah the LORD is my strength and might,

And He has been my deliverance.”

Joyfully shall you draw water

From the fountains of triumph,

And you shall say on that day:

“Praise the LORD, proclaim His name.

Make His deeds known among the peoples;

Declare that His name is exalted.

Hymn the LORD,

For He has done gloriously;

Let this be made known

In all the world!

Oh, shout for joy,

You who dwell in Zion!

For great is your midst

Is the Holy One of Israel.”

–Isaiah 12:1-6, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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“That day” in Isaiah 12:1 is when God will begin to send Hebrew exiles to their ancestral homeland, a place they have never known.  They have firsthand and secondhand accounts of it, but they have always lived in a foreign country.

The prophet Amos anticipated that exile and condemned the hubris and complacency of many in the population as the kingdom approached its end.  He also criticized those who maintained sacred rituals outwardly while exploiting and cheating people.  Holy rituals are serious matters, not talismans which protect those who sin without repenting, Amos wrote.

God is generous and grace is free.  That free grace can prove to be most inconvenient, for it is costly, not cheap.  Accepting grace imposes great responsibilities upon the recipient.  This was on the mind of St. Paul the Apostle in 2 Corinthians.  St. Titus was collecting funds for the benefit of the Christians at Jerusalem.  Some of the most generous donors were those who had known great hardship and deprivation.  God had guided them through those perilous times and provided for them.  Now they were sharing enthusiastically.  2 Corinthians 8:15, quoting Exodus 16:18, which referred to manna in the Sinai Desert, established a fine standard:

The one who had much did not have too much,

and the one who had little did not have too little.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Everyone has enough in divine economics.  Artificial scarcity, which is sinful, is a human creation.

Giving in thankful response to divine faithfulness and generosity can entail donating many things, including money.  Focusing exclusively or primarily on money, however, is in error, for doing so ignores or gives short shrift to other forms of giving.  One might have little money but plenty of time to share a necessary skill or talent, for example.  Money pays bills and wages, so nobody should ignore its necessity, but sometimes giving only money is the easy way out of exercising one’s full responsibility.  Whatever one has to give, may one donate it for the glory of God and the benefit of others.  May one give cheerfully and out of gratitude for divine faithfulness and generosity.  It will never be enough to compare to what God has done, is doing, and will do, but that is not the point.  I think of a witty Billy Collins poem about a child giving a lanyard to his or her mother.  No gift to God or one’s mother can match what God or one’s mother has done for one, but the thought is what counts.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 13, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH PAYSON PRENTISS, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/13/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-the-third-sunday-of-advent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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That Which Defiles, Part I   1 comment

Good Samaritan

Above:  An Illustration from Ralph Kirby, The Bible in Pictures (1952), Page 82

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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The Collect:

Almighty and merciful God,

we implore you to hear the prayers of your people.

Be our strong defense against all harm and danger,

that we may live and grow in faith and hope,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 41

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The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 21:1-15 (Monday)

Leviticus 15:19-31 (Tuesday)

Psalm 88 (Both Days)

2 Corinthians 8:16-24 (Monday)

2 Corinthians 9:1-5 (Tuesday)

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But as for me, O LORD, I cry to you for help;

in the morning my prayer comes before you.

–Psalm 88:14, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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What makes one unclean?  What defiles a person?  To use the germane Greek idiom, what makes a person common?

The Law of Moses lists offenses which make a person common.  Today’s readings from Leviticus provide the following causes for defilement:

  1. Menstruation and contact with the discharge;
  2. Contact with discharged blood;
  3. Priestly contact with corpse, except that of a near relative;
  4. Priestly incest;
  5. Certain forms of grooming for priests;
  6. Priestly cutting of his own flesh;
  7. Priestly marriage to a harlot, a divorced woman, or a woman otherwise not a virgin on the day of the wedding to the priest;
  8. A priest’s daughter committing harlotry, thereby defiling her father and warranting her death; and
  9. Priestly baring of his head or rending of vestments.

The Law of Moses does not like female biology, does it?

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) includes a priest who refused to violate the third item on that list, for fear that the man lying by the side of the road might be dead.  That priest would have become ritually unclean, therefore not fit to perform sacred rituals for a few days, according to Leviticus 21.  The priest was not the hero of our Lord and Savior’s story.

What really makes one unclean, defiled?  Jesus answered that question in Matthew 15:18-19:

But the things that come out of a man’s mouth come from his heart and mind, and it is they that really make a man unclean.  For it is from a man’s mind that evil thoughts arise–murder, adultery, lust, theft, perjury, and slander.

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

Mark 7:15 contains a succinct statement:

There is nothing outside a man which can enter him and make him “common.”  It is the things which come out of a man that make him “common”!

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

The list from Matthew 15 describes how to harm others and oneself in the process.  Building up others (and therefore oneself in the process), as in the readings from 2 Corinthians, does the opposite of defiling one, therefore.  The priest in the Parable of the Good Samaritan should have thought of that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 27, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHARLES VILLIERS SANFORD, COMPOSER, ORGANIST, AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF CHARLES HENRY BRENT, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WESTERN NEW YORK

THE FEAST OF JOHN MARRIOTT, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT RUPERT OF SALZBURG, APOSTLE OF BAVARIA AND AUSTRIA

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-proper-8-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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1 Kings and 2 Corinthians, Part VII: The Face of God   1 comment

elijah

Above:  Design Drawing for Stained-Glass Window with Elijah

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/LAMB2006000402/)

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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 everlasting 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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The Assigned Readings:

1 Kings 12:20-13:5, 33-34 (August 30)

1 Kings 16:29-17:24 (August 31)

Psalm 86 (Morning–August 30)

Psalm 122 (Morning–August 31)

Psalms 6 and 19 (Evening–August 30)

Psalms 141 and 90 (Evening–August 31)

2 Corinthians 8:1-24 (August 30)

2 Corinthians 9:1-15 (August 31)

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Some Related Posts:

1 Kings 12-13:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/week-of-5-epiphany-saturday-year-2/

1 Kings 16-17:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/week-of-proper-5-monday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/week-of-proper-5-tuesday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/proper-27-year-b/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/proper-5-year-c/

2 Corinthians 8-9:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/week-of-proper-6-tuesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/20/proper-8-year-b/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/week-of-proper-6-wednesday-year-1/

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The political narratives of the royal houses of Israel and Judah continue in 1 Kings 12-16.  In the northern Kingdom of Israel, as the story goes, old habits of faithlessness continued and dynasties came and went.  One of the more common means of becoming king was assassinating the previous one.

The narratives build up to the Omri Dynasty and the stories of the prophet Elijah.  Today’s Elijah story concerns a drought, a desperately poor widow, and the raising of her son from the dead.  God, via Elijah, provided for the widow.  That story dovetails nicely with 2 Corinthians 8-9, with its mention of fundraising for Jerusalem Christians and exhortation to generosity, cheerful giving, and trusting in God to provide that which one can give to help others.  In other words, we are to be the face of God to each other.  When God helps others, one of us might be a vehicle for that aid.

To whom is God sending you, O reader?  And which person or persons is God sending to you?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 15, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PROXMIRE, UNITED STATES SENATOR

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/devotion-for-august-30-and-31-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Not For the Sake of Appearances   3 comments

Above:  A Trappist Monk Praying

Image Source = Daniel Tibi

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Trappist_praying_2007-08-20_dti.jpg)

2 Corinthians 9:6-11 (An American Translation):

Remember this:  The man who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and the man who sows generously will reap generously.  Everyone must give what he has made up his mind to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion; God loves a man who is glad to give.  God is able to provide with every blessing in abundance so that you will always have enough for every situation, and ample means for every good enterprise:  as the Scripture says,

He scatters his gifts to the poor;

His uprightness will never be forgotten.

He who supplies the sower with seed and so with bread to eat will supply you with seed, and multiply it and enlarge the harvest of your uprightness.  You will grow rich in every way, so that through me you can show perfect liberality that will make men thank God for it.

Psalm 112:1-9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Happy are they who fear the Lord

and have great delight in his commandments!

2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3 Wealth and riches will be in their house,

and their righteousness will last for ever.

Light shines in the darkness for the upright;

the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

It is good for them to be generous in lending

and to manage their affairs with justice.

6 For they will never be shaken;

the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.

7 They will not be afraid of any evil rumors;

their heart is right;

they put their trust in the Lord.

8 Their trust is established and will not shrink,

until they see their desire upon their enemies.

They have given freely to the poor,

and their righteousness stands fast for ever;

they will hold up their head with honor.

Matthew 6:1-18 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,] “But take care not to do your good deeds in public for people to see, for, if you do, you will get no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you are going to give to charity, do not blow a trumpet before yourself, as the hypocrites do, in the synagogues and the streets, to make people praise them.  I tell you, that this is all the reward they will get!  But when you give to charity, your own left hand must now know what your right hand is doing, so that your charity may be secret, and your Father who sees what is secret will reward you.

When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, for they like to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the squares, to let people see them.  I tell you, that is all the reward they will get!  But when you pray, go into your own room, and shut the door, and pray to your Father who is unseen, and your Father who sees what is secret will reward you.  And when you pray, do not repeat empty phrases as the heathen do, for they imagine that their prayers will be heard if they use words enough.  You must not be like them.  For God, who is your Father, knows what you need before you ask him.  This, therefore, is the way you are to pray:

Our Father in heaven,

Your name be revered!

Your kingdom come!

Your will be done

On earth as well as in heaven!

Give us today bread for the day,

And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.

And do not subject us to temptation,

But save us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others when they offend you, your heavenly Father will forgive you too.  But if you do not forgive others when they offend you, your heavenly Father will not forgive you for your offenses.

When you fast, do not put on a gloomy look, like the hypocrites, for they neglect their personal appearance to let people see that they are fasting.  I tell you, that is all the reward they will get.  But when you fast, perfume your hair and wash your face, that no one may see that you are fasting, except your Father who is unseen, and your Father who sees what is secret, will reward you.”

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The Collect:

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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Sincerity is the heart of this day’s readings.  It is not enough to do the right thing, such as to pray, fast, or give alms; no, one must do these for the right reason(s).  These include the following:

  1. One is grateful and devoted to God.
  2. One seeks to obey God’s commands faithfully.
  3. One is filled with genuine concern for others.
  4. One seeks one’s own spiritual improvement.

And none of this praying, fasting, and giving of alms must be for show.

Multiple Hebrew texts teach the divine imperative of caring for the less fortunate.  Aside from this day’s psalm, I think immediately of Deuteronomy 15:7-11, which Paul references.  There are also too many passages from the Hebrew prophets to quote here and to remain succinct.  The Bible does teach a divine preference for the poor and condemnation of those who keep them that way and exploit them.

Many or most of us can recall incidents of politicians who rarely attend church becoming Sunday morning regulars during weeks preceding an election.  Attending church is good, of course, but we must do this sincerely, not for show.  Going to keep up appearances is inadequate.  I have never sought public office, but I can recall a few times I have attended church out of habit but, for my sake and that of others, should have stayed home that day.  My heart was not in it.  To refer to a line from the previous day’s reading from Matthew, I was not ready to make offering to God.

Neither should prayer be for show, or vain.  The Reverend Roger Williams, Puritan minister, founder of Rhode Island, and founder of the oldest Baptist congregation in the United States, objected strenuously to anyone (especially, in his case, the government of the Massachusetts Bay colony) compelling someone to pray involuntarily.  The only prayers worth anything, he said, are those offered sincerely and voluntarily.

Praying and fasting had become outward signs of respectability for certain professional religious people in Jesus’ day.  These men did not sacrifice anything when they fasted, which they did often.  Oddly enough, fasting was a luxury for them.  And one might recall the parable of Jesus in which two men pray in the Temple.  One is a humble tax collector beseeching God for mercy, and the other is a Pharisee who boasts of his deeds and who has contempt on the tax collector.  Jesus favored the prayer of the tax collector.

As to the matter of vain words, let us not think that simplicity of worship equals sincerity of it.  Anyone can go through the motions, regardless of the number of them.  If you attend a church with a regular pattern of Sunday worship, no matter how simple it might be, you go to a liturgical church.  I attend an Episcopal parish, so I go through a fairly elaborate weekly pattern of worship.  I would use a Prayer Book except for the fact that I have memorized Holy Eucharist Rite II over the years.  My words have been vain only on those days that I, for personal reasons, would have been better off staying home.  My heart has not always been in it.

Consider the following twice-told story:

There was a community worship service in a county seat town in the U.S. South.  The host congregation for this service was the First Baptist Church, and most of the local ministers helped lead the worship.  When the host pastor introduced the local Episcopal priest, who was to say a prayer, the Southern Baptist minister said, “Now Father Jones will say one of his written prayers.”  The priest walked to the pulpit and said, “Let us pray.  Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name….”

Sincerity in prayer expresses itself in many ways.  I know through reading that different styles of prayer appeal to various personality types, for example.  So one size does not fit all.  And the South Georgia Baptist cadence I heard while growing up does not appeal to me.  No, give me a Prayer Book any day.  I mean that sincerely.

All of these lessons from Matthew flow naturally out of the end of Chapter 5 and the command of Jesus to be perfect (that is, suited to one’s intended purpose), just as God is.  Think about it:  What does ostentation benefit anyone spiritually?  Can it prepare one for service to God and others?  No, of course not!  So let us be sensitive and sincere.  May we think more about others and God than ourselves.  Sincere and sensitive actions will from such attitudes.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 2, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHANNING MOORE WILLIAMS, EPISCOPAL BISHOP IN CHINA AND JAPAN

THE FEAST OF JOHN BROWN, ABOLITIONIST

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/week-of-proper-6-wednesday-year-1/

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