Archive for the ‘2 Esdras’ Category

Reaping What One Sows   1 comment

Slum DC 1937

Above:  A Slum in Washington, D.C., November 1937

Photographer = John Vachon

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USF33-T01-001048-M3

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Collect:

God of heaven and earth,

before the foundation of the universe and the beginning of time

you are the triune God:

Author of creation, eternal Word of creation, life-giving Spirit of wisdom.

Guide us to all truth by your Spirit,

that we may proclaim all that Christ has revealed

and rejoice in the glory he shares with us.

Glory and praise to you,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 6:22-27

Psalm 20

Mark 4:21-25

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses,

but we will call upon the Name of the LORD our God.

They will collapse and fall down,

but we will arise and stand upright.

–Psalm 20:7-8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The rich rule the poor,

And the borrower is a slave to the lender.

He who sows injustice shall reap misfortune;

His rod of wrath shall fail.

The generous man is blessed,

For he gives of his bread to the poor.

–Proverbs 22:7-9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The rich get richer while the poor get poorer.  That statement applies today; it has done so since antiquity.  This is not a matter as simple as hard work leading to prosperity and sloth leading to poverty, for some of the hardest workers have been and are poor.  No, certain rich people have developed and maintained systems which perpetuate income inequality and favor some people yet not most.

In the Kingdom of God, however, spiritual principles work differently than much of human economics:

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.  If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.  So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.  So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

–Galatians 6:7-10, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Present conduct determines the future.  A positive relationship with God is a wonderful thing, but sitting on it, as if one has a “Jesus and me” relationship, is negative.  Sharing one’s faith is the only way to gain more, but hoarding it will lead to losing it.  In other words, the more one gives away spiritually, the more one will receive.

A related text comes from 2 Esdras 7:21-25:

For the Lord strictly commanded those who come into the world, when they come, what they should do to live, and what they should do to avoid punishment.  Nevertheless they were not obedient and spoke against him:

they devised for themselves vain thoughts,

and proposed to themselves wicked frauds;

they even declared that the Most High does not exist,

and they ignored his ways.

They scorned his law,

and denied his covenants;

they have been unfaithful to his statutes,

and have not performed his works.

That is the reason, Ezra, that empty things are for the empty, and full things are for the full.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The atheism mentioned in the passage is practical atheism, that which acknowledges the existence of God while rejecting the ideas that God has an active and effective role in the world and that God’s commandments should have any influence on one’s life.  It is, quite simply, Deism.  Atheism, in the sense that one hears of it frequently in modern Western societies, was rare in antiquity.  That which Reza Aslan calls anti-theism, or hostility to theism (not just the rejection of it), was even more rare.  Thus, when we consider Psalm 14, the most accurate rendering of the opening lines is not that fools say “there is no God” (the standard English translation), but that fools say, “God does not care,” as TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) renders the passage.

For more verses about the consequences of disobedience, consult Matthew 13:12 and Luke 8:18.

The Aaronic Blessing (Numbers 6:24-26), a familiar text and an element of many liturgies, precedes an important verse:

Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.

–Numbers 6:27, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Receiving blessings from God obligates one to function as a vehicle for others to receive blessings from God.  Grace is free (for us), but never cheap.  In the context of Numbers 6, there is also a mandate to obey the Law of Moses, which contains an ethic of recognizing one’s complete dependence on God, one’s dependence upon other human beings, one’s responsibility to and for others, and the absence of the right to exploit anyone.

Thus the conclusion of this post echoes the beginning thereof.  We have a mandate to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  Obeying that commandment can prove to be difficult and will lead us to change some of our assumptions and related behaviors, but that is part of the call of God upon our lives.  We ought to respond positively, out of love for God and our neighbors, but the principle that our present conduct will determine our future hangs over us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 14, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATHILDA, QUEEN OF GERMANY

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/14/devotion-for-wednesday-after-trinity-sunday-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Rereading the Bible Again As If For the First Time   5 comments

Above:  The Reading of the Gospel, St. George’s Episcopal Church, Griffin, Georgia, May 6, 2012

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

(https://picasaweb.google.com/114749828757741527421/BishopWhitmoreSVisitToStGeorgeSGriffen#5739530750820847474)

I grew up with the Bible; my father is a United Methodist minister.  Methodists, of course, are not Sola Scriptura people, at least not officially, nor should they be.  Methodists are Quadrilateral people, with the four elements being Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.  Scripture is primary in this formula, which they got from us, their parent tradition, Anglicanism.  The Methodists transformed the Anglican Three-Legged Stool into the Quadrilateral by splitting off experience from reason.

As I have implied, Sola Scriptura is rubbish.  It does not hold water historically, and therefore fails theologically.  Much of the Bible began as oral tradition before entering its written phase of existence.  And the parts which were in writing from the beginning had their roots in tradition.  So Scripture flowed from tradition.  And religious figures defined cannons for Judaism and varieties of Christianity.  The Bible for the earliest Christians was the Hebrew Scriptures.  The earliest (eventually canonical) written Gospel was Mark, composed no earlier than 67 CE.  Paul died before any written Gospel existed.  If the Scriptura does not yet exist or if its definition is not a settled matter, how can Sola Scriptura work?

Speaking of which, there are Christian canons.

  1. Protestant Bibles have 66 books.
  2. Roman Catholic Bibles have 73 books.
  3. Orthodox Bibles, depending on the variety of Orthodoxy, have 76, 78, or 80 books.

I have read all 78 books of the Slavonic Bible.  God help me, I have endured the pure confusion which is 2 Esdras, the Maccabees-devoid 3 Maccabees, and the combination of philosophy and over-the-top hagiographies replete with descriptions of torture which is 4 Maccabees.  And I have concluded that the Council of Trent was correct on at least one matter:  the Bible properly has 73 books.

I travel through that material to arrive at this destination:  Although I have read all 78 books of the Slavonic Bible, I have been rediscovering the Biblical texts while preparing blog devotionals based on lectionaries.  Subtleties which once evaded me have become apparent.  Connections between texts have become obvious to me.  I would not have thought to have paired certain parts of the Old and New Testaments, but I am glad that a lectionary committee did.

Once my Bible study techniques were rather poor, sometimes non-existent.  More than once I devised a plan and got off to a promising start.  Then everything fizzled.  Yet, with these lectionaries and the discipline of blogging, I have found a winning strategy for rereading the Bible again as if for the first time.  I want to read what is next, so I do.

My advice to you, O reader, is to try this approach for yourself, with or without blogging.  There are options.  The Revised Common Lectionary is mostly for Sundays.  It has become the standard for many denominations across the planet.  Thus many ecumenical study materials are based on it.  And the new Sunday lectionary of the Roman Catholic Church is nearly identical to it.  The lectionary texts and many study materials linked to them are available online.

Or maybe you prefer Lutheran options.  The Lutheran Service Book (2006) (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/evangelical-lutheran-worship-2006-and-lutheran-service-book-2006-services/), of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, contains a one-year daily lectionary, complete with an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, and the choice of a morning psalm or two evening psalms.  Readings tend to be continuous.  This, in my experience so far, has proven to be an excellent Bible reading plan.  Finding the connections between the Old and New Testament readings has been a great spiritual exercise.  Reading Job and John together, for example, led to some interesting insights.  Meanwhile, in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006) (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/evangelical-lutheran-worship-2006-and-lutheran-service-book-2006-services/), of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, one finds a three-year daily lectionary built around the Revised Common Lectionary.  On a Thursday the readings built up to the Sunday lessons.  Then they flow from them through Wednesday.  This is the lectionary I have scheduled myself to follow next, for church year 2013-2014.

For Episcopal Church options one can turn to The Book of Common Prayer (1979) and Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010).  The Prayer Book contains the Daily Office, a plan for daily readings (Old Testament, New Testament, and morning and evening psalms) over two years.  The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), incidentally, incorporated the Daily Office with only minor modifications (as far as I can tell, in the choice of psalms per day) into its fifth Book of Common Worship (1993) (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/book-of-common-worship-1993/).  The Episcopal Church has replaced its 1979 Sunday lectionary with the Revised Common Lectionary, so more recent printing runs of the Prayer Book have placed the RCL where the 1979 Lectionary used to be and added the 1979 Lectionary as an appendix.  Over at Holy Women, Holy Men, one can find a set of daily lectionaries to string together through the entire church year to read in lieu of the Daily Office.  And there is a six-week topical lectionary for Monday-Saturday.

Or perhaps one prefers what my brethren in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) offer.  Chalice Hymnal (1995) (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/chalice-hymnal-1995-worship-resources/) includes a three-year daily lectionary.  For each week there is a designated psalm or portion thereof.  One reads this in conjunction with one of a series of continuous lessons from a rotation of books of the Bible and with a hymn keyed to the lesson.

Maybe you, O reader, prefer an old Scottish Presbyterian lectionary.  If so, look no further than the 1946 U.S. Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/the-book-of-common-worship-1946/), the third in a line which began in 1906.  This lectionary, mostly for Sundays, offers a psalm and a reading from the Old Testament, an epistle, and a Gospel per day.

In other words, by writing about these options I am offering possibilities in methods of reading and studying the Bible intelligently and methodically.  Above all, O reader, I encourage you to read the Bible intelligently and methodically.  This exercise ought not to be about gathering ammunition for winning arguments.  And prooftexting ought never to be on the table.  This exercise ought not to be about “being right;” it ought to be about being righteous.  And you will certainly discover, as I have, the truth of a sage statement by Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain:

It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.

So be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 16, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANDREW FOURNET AND ELIZABETH BICHIER, COFOUNDERS OF THE DAUGHTERS OF THE CROSS; AND SAINT MICHAEL GARICOITS, FOUNDER OF THE PRIEST OF THE SACRED HEART OF BETHARRAM

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN NEPOMUCENE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF SUDAN

THE FEAST OF TE WERA HAURAKI, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Some Related Posts:

Lamp of Our Feet:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/lamp-of-our-feet/

Before a Bible Study:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/10/07/before-a-bible-study/

A Prayer for Opening a Bible Study:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/a-prayer-for-opening-a-bible-study/

Come, Blessed Spirit! Source of Light:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/come-blessed-spirit-source-of-light/

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Faithfulness of God   1 comment

Above: The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, by John Martin (1854)

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Genesis 19:15-29 (An American Translation):

When dawn appeared, the angels urged Lot on saying,

Bestir yourself; take away your wife, and the two daughters that are at hand, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.

When he hesitated, the men, because of the LORD’s pity on him, seized his hand and those of his wife and his two daughters, and bringing them out, they left him outside the city.  After they had brought them outside, they said,

Fly for your life; do not look behind you, nor stop anywhere in the valley; fly to the hills, lest you be swept away.

Lot said to them,

O no sirs!  Your servant has indeed found favor with you, and great is the kindness that you have done me in saving my life, but I cannot possibly fly to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I perish.  Here is the town near enough to fly to, and quite small; pray, let me fly there (is it not small?) to save my life.

The LORD said to him,

See, I grant you this request as well, in that I will not overthrow the town of which you speak.  Hurry and fly there; for I can do nothing until you reach there.

Thus the name of the town came to be called Zoar [small].

Just as the sun rose over the earth and Lot entered Zoar, the LORD rained sulphur and fire from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah, devastating those cities and all the valley, with all the inhabitants of the cities and the vegetation on the land.  And Lot’s wife looked back, and had become a pillar of salt.

Lot’s Wife Pillar, Mount Sodom, Israel

Next morning when Abraham went early to the place where he had stood before the LORD, he gazed toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and all the region of the valley, and he saw smoke from the land rising like smoke from a kiln.

Thus it was that God remembered Abraham when he destroyed the cities of the valley, by sending Lot away from the catastrophe when he devastated the cities where Lot lived.

Psalm 26 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Give judgment for me, O LORD,

for I have lived with integrity;

I have trusted in the LORD and have not faltered.

Test me, O LORD, and try me;

examine my heart and my mind.

3 For your love is before my eyes;

I have walked faithfully before you.

I have not sat with the worthless,

nor do I consort with the deceitful.

5 I have hated the company of evildoers;

I will not sit down with the wicked.

6 I will wash my hands in innocence, O LORD,

that I may go in procession round your altar,

Singing aloud a song of thanksgiving

and recounting all your wonderful deeds.

8 LORD, I love the house in which you dwell

and the place where your glory abides.

Do not sweep me away with sinners,

nor my life with those who thirst for blood,

10 Whose hands are full of evil plots,

and their right hand full of bribes.

11 As for me, I will live with integrity;

redeem me, O LORD, and have pity on me.

12 My foot stands on level ground;

in the full assembly I will bless the LORD.

Matthew 8:23-27 (An American Translation):

And he [Jesus] got into the boat, and his disciples with him.  And suddenly a terrific storm came up on the sea, so that the waves broke over the boat, but he remained asleep.  And they woke him, saying,

Save us, sir!  We are lost!

And he said to them,

Why are you afraid?  You have so little faith!

Then he got up and reproved the wind and the sea, and there was a great calm.  And the men were amazed and said,

What kind of man is this?  For the very winds and sea obey him!

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

One of the challenges of following a lectionary can be identifying the common theme present in two or more readings from different parts of the Bible.  After consulting commentaries and pondering all that I have read in the readings and the commentaries, I have found the common thread:  Faithfulness to God is the path to life.  This faithfulness needs only to be present.  However, as Paul wrote in Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is spiritual death.  The wages of sin can also be physical death, and the punishment flows from the sin itself.  In other words, we reap what we sow.  God is faithful to those who are faithful to him.

Let us examine the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah carefully.  In Genesis 19:1-14, two angels arrive at Sodom, where Lot rescues them from would-be gang rapists.  The angels tell Lot that God will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah very shortly because, as Professor Richard Elliott Friedman translates verse 13,  they have “grown big before YHWH’s face.”

I pause at this point to ponder the importance of growing “big before YHWH’s face.”  Later in Chapter 19, YHWH permits Lot and his family to flee to Zoar, which is small, for safety.  (Two angels appear early in Chapter 19, and by chapter’s end, YHWH is there, too.  When did God show up, after disappearing between the end of Chapter 18 and the beginning of Chapter 19?  Following the bouncing ball can be challenging.)  Anyhow, I posit that growing “big before YHWH’s face” indicates spiritual arrogance, a lack of faithfulness.

There is an interesting feature in the Hebrew text of verse 15.  The word for punishment, as in “…or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city,” means sin as well.  Sin and punishment are the same thing; consequences flow from actions, so we reap what we sow.

Lot is sufficiently hospitable to rescue the angels, strangers in Sodom, and, as Genesis 19:29 indicates, God saves Lot and family out of faithfulness to Abraham.  Indeed, Lot is a disturbing character, one who offers his two virgin daughters to the would-be gang rapists gathered outside his house (verse 8).  Fortunately for the daughters, the men are not interested.

But Lot is kind to the strangers, if not his own daughters, and the angelic guests offer him and his family a safe way out–if only they follow instructions.  Nobody must look back.  I suppose that curiosity about what is happening would inspire one to look back; we are a species of people who stare at the aftermath of car wrecks.

Biblical writers over many generations used Sodom and Gomorrah to demonstrate various points.  These include:

  • Repent, or be destroyed.
  • Sexual immorality (in all its forms) is wrong.  The first explicit link between homosexual acts and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah comes in Jude 7, however.
  • Any town that refuses to heed visitors bearing the word of God will face condemnation.
  • The failure to extend hospitality to strangers will lead to condemnation.
  • The neglect of the poor will lead to condemnation and destruction.

The word “Sodom” appears in the New Revised Standard Version 51 times.  For those of you who wish to follow up, here they are:

  • Genesis 10:19
  • Genesis 13:10, 12, and 13
  • Genesis 14:2, 8, 10-12, 17, 21, 22, and 26
  • Genesis 18:16, 20, and 26
  • Genesis 19:1, 4, 24, and 28
  • Deuteronomy 29:23
  • Deuteronomy 32:32
  • Isaiah 1:9 and 10
  • Isaiah 3:9
  • Isaiah 13:19
  • Jeremiah 23:14
  • Jeremiah 49:18
  • Jeremiah 50:40
  • Lamentations 4:6
  • Ezekiel 16:46, 48, 49, 53, 55, and 56
  • Amos 4:11
  • Zephaniah 2:9
  • 3 Maccabees 2:5
  • 2 Esdras 2:8
  • 2 Esdras 7:106
  • Matthew 10:15
  • Matthew 11:23 and 24
  • Luke 10:12
  • Luke 17:29
  • Romans 9:29
  • 2 Peter 2:6
  • Jude 7
  • Revelation 11:8

The reading from Matthew tells the familiar story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee.  In all fairness to the Apostles, I would have been afraid, too.  I note also that Jesus said they had little faith, not no faith.  This is a difficult text, one with more possible interpretations than I dreamed possible before reading commentaries.  However, remaining consistent with my methodology of following a common thread between or among lectionary readings, I latch onto the “little faith” comment.  At least the Apostles had some faith.  Are we not like this much, if not most, of the time?  We have some faith and we know that we need more.  We believe, yet we need God to forgive us for our unbelief.  But a little faith is better than none, and from little faith much more can spring.  As the Book of Psalms says, God knows that we are “but dust.”

Reciprocity matters in a healthy relationship with God.  We will get much wrong, for we are fallible.  But, by grace, we can walk in the paths of righteousness more often than not.  We might save not only ourselves, but friends and family members, too.  But are we trying?  That is the first question.  Fortunately, God is faithful to those who are faithful to him.  And let us remember what Mother Teresa of Calcutta said about faithfulness:  God calls us to be faithful, not successful.

Certainly, how we treat others can be an outward sign of faithfulness.  If we love God with our essence and respect ourselves, following the Golden Rule will result in frequent acts of kindness.  To follow up on a previous devotion in this series, Jesus said that “you shall know them by their fruits.”  I add to this thought the entire Letter of James.

May we be faithful to God for the glory of God and out of awe of God and gratitude for all the wonderful deeds God has done.  And why not?  God is faithful.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 16, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GUSTAF AULEN, SWEDISH LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ADELAIDE, HOLY ROMAN EMPRESS

THE FEAST OF MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/week-of-proper-8-tuesday-year-1/

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++