Archive for the ‘2 Kings 6-17’ Category

Proclaiming Jesus the Son of God   1 comment

Above:   St. Joseph, by William Dyce

Image in the Public Domain

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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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Isaiah 7:10-17

Isaiah 12 (at least verses 2-6)

Romans 1:1-7

Matthew 1:18-24

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Ahaz, King of Judah (reigned 743/735-727/715 B.C.E.) was hardly a pious monotheist.  In fact, he practiced idolatry openly.  2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28 gave him scathing reviews.  Ahaz, confronted with an alliance of Israel and Aram against him, chose to rely on Assyria, not God.  That was a really bad decision.  Nevertheless, God sent a sign of deliverance; a young woman of the royal court would have a baby boy.  God would not only protect Judah but judge it also.

Surely God is our salvation, but how often do we take the easy way out and not trust in God?  When God arrives in the form of a helpless infant, as in Matthew 1, one might not recognize the divine presence.  What we expect to see might prevent us from seeing what is in front of us for what it is.  God approaches us in many guises, many of them unexpected.

At first reading Romans 1:4 might seem surprising, perhaps even similar to the Adoptionist heresy.

…and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord….

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

One might think of John 1:1-18, which declares that the Son is co-eternal with the Father.  One might also ponder the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34) as well as the preceding testimony of St. John the Baptist in each Gospel.  One might even recall the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17:1-13; Luke 9:28-36).

The proclamation mentioned in Romans 1:4 need not contradict those other proclamations.  No, one should interpret it as a subsequent proclamation that Jesus was the Son of God.  One should notice the theological context in Romans 1:  Easter as the beginning and foretaste of the prophesied age of divine rule on Earth.

“Kingdom of God” has more than one meaning in the New Testament.  Usually, though, it indicates divine rule on Earth.  This kingdom is evident in the ministry of Jesus in the Gospels, written after the death of St. Paul the Apostle.  The Kingdom of God is both present and future; it is here, yet not fully.

As we, being intellectually honest readers of scripture, acknowledge the existence of certain disagreements regarding the dawning of the age of God, according to St. Paul and the authors of the canonical Gospels, may we also never cease to trust in God, regardless of how much evil runs rampant and how much time has elapsed since the times of Jesus and St. Paul.  God keeps a schedule we do not see.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 15, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZACHARY OF ROME, POPE

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JAN ADALBERT BALICKI AND LADISLAUS FINDYSZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS IN POLAND

THE FEAST OF OZORA STEARNS DAVIS, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF VETHAPPAN SOLOMON, APOSTLE TO THE NICOBAR ISLANDS

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2018/03/15/devotion-for-the-fourth-sunday-of-advent-year-a-humes/

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Extravagant Kindness   Leave a comment

Above:  Christ in the House of Simon, by Dieric Bouts

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE FIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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O Lord, we ask you, let your continual pity cleanse and defend your Church;

and, because it cannot continue in safety without your succor,

preserve it evermore by your help and goodness;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 140

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2 Kings 17:5-14, 18-23

Psalm 25

Philippians 4:4-9, 19-20

Mark 14:3-9

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The reading from 2 Kings, in conjunction with Psalm 25, extols the virtues of obeying God.  2 Kings 16 contains a clear statement of consequences of not doing so consistently, though.  That theme is also present in Psalm 25, but not at such length.

Many of those divine commandments boil down to human kindness.  Philippians 4:5 states the matter simply:

Be known to everyone for your consideration of others.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

The anointing of Jesus is one of the stories that we find in one version or another in each canonical Gospel.  We have it in Mark 14:3-9, Matthew 26:6-13, Luke 7:36-50, and John 12:1-8.  Despite variations from one account to the others, the element of kindness is constant.  The woman’s extravagant kindness is a timeless lesson.

Given how extravagant many people are in the pursuit of boosting their egos and advancing their social status, frequently at the expense of others, certainly seeming to go overboard to show kindness cannot be a vice, can it?  I would rather err on the side of compassion rather than on the side of its opposite.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 5, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN NEPOMUCENE NEUMANN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF PHILADELPHIA

THE FEAST OF ANTONIO LOTTI, ROMAN CATHOLIC MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINT GENOVEVA TORRES MORALES, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS AND THE HOLY ANGELS

THE FEAST OF MARGARET MACKAY, SCOTTISH HYMN WRITER

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The Apocalyptic Discourse, Part I   1 comment

temple-of-solomon

Above:  Temple of Solomon

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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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:

Jeremiah 7:1-15 or Daniel 2:1-49

Psalm 17:8-14 (15) or Psalm 83

Matthew 24:1-8 or Mark 13:1-8

1 Corinthians 7:1-40

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Timothy Matthew Slemmons, creator of the Year D project and author of the book in which I find the citations for this series of devotions, sets aside five Sundays for “the Apocalyptic Discourse,” which precedes “the Prelude to the Passion” (four Sundays) and “the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (ten Sundays), which leads directly into Christ the King Sunday.  This arrangement presents an opportunity to delve into material usually ignored, minimized, or squeezed into Holy Week.

Holy rituals and the Temple at Jerusalem are not protective talismans that shield us as we commit idolatry, oppress the vulnerable, victimize foreigners, shed the blood of the innocent at holy places, commit adultery, steal, and/or murder, Jeremiah says.  He and other Hebrew prophets agree that proper worship of God entails not just correct ritual but good morality; the first without the second is a mockery of God and the ritual.  Do not trust too much in the Temple, Jeremiah says.  Jesus makes a similar statement about that Temple’s successor.  Both buildings will cease to exist in time, we read.

They did.

The apocalyptic theme continues.  In Daniel the quality of material in the statue from the dream becomes progressively less impressive.  The world of human beings, with their military-based empires, degrades.  One should not trust much in those either.  Neither should one put much stock in marriage, according to St. Paul the Apostle.  According to St. Paul in 1 Corinthians, marriage is a cause for anxiety and distraction from a spiritual orientation during the last days (which he thought were in progress), but at least it is preferable to sinning.

Where, then, should one place one’s trust?  In God, of course.  The two options for this psalm this Sunday are pleas for divine vindication and destruction of one’s enemies (in contrast to the treatment of the Aramean raiders in 2 Kings 6:8-23).  In Year D (2013) Slemmons emphasizes Psalm 83, with,

Cover their faces with shame, O LORD,

that they may seek your Name.

–Verse 16, The Book of Common Prayer (1979),

a rendering, with some variations, common to many translations.  Yet, as I read Psalm 83, I notice that

that they may seek your Name

is out-of-place with the rest of the text, which pleads for their destruction.  One might explain this inconsistency by pointing out that human beings are frequently inconsistent, holding two mutually exclusive opinions simultaneously.  The translation by the late Mitchell J. Dahood, an eminent scholar of Semitic languages, for The Anchor Bible, tilts toward

a coherent exegesis within the immediate context

Psalms II (1968), page 277,

and renders the verse in question thusly:

Fill their faces with shame,

and let your Name, Yahweh, avenge itself.

As a Presbyterian minister I know says,

Translating Hebrew is a bear.

Certainly the apocalyptic mindset and genre thrives during times of difficulty, especially oppression.  We humans tend to seek the destruction of our foes anyway, but more so during times of oppression.  I understand that the deliverance of the righteous by God might entail the destruction of the wicked, especially at times when the oppressors insist on oppressing and not repenting, but the story of capturing Aramean raiders, treating them kindly before repatriating them (2 Kings 6) sticks in my memory.  As I wrote in the post in which I dealt with that account, how we treat others–especially our enemies–is really about who we are, not who they are.

So who are we?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FIRST DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON, ABOLITIONIST AND FEMINIST; AND MARIA STEWART, ABOLITIONIST, FEMINIST, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB AND DOROTHY BUXTON, FOUNDERS OF SAVE THE CHILDREN

THE FEAST OF FRANK MASON NORTH, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER

THE FEAST OF MARY CORNELIA BISHOP GATES, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/12/17/devotion-for-proper-10-year-d/

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Loving Our Enemies and Praying for Our Persecutors   1 comment

penitent-magdalene

Above:  Detail from The Penitent Magdalene, by Georges de La Tour

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:

2 Kings 6:8-23

Psalm 57 or 3

Matthew 12:38-50 or Luke 11:24-36

1 Corinthians 5:1-6a (6b-8) 9-13; 6:1-11

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To seek deliverance from enemies and evildoers is understandable and justifiable; to seek revenge against them is understandable and unjustifiable.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the just and the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

–Matthew 5:43-48, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

Perfection, in this case, indicates suitability for one’s tasks and purpose.  We who claim to follow Jesus and hopefully do more than claim to do so have the commandment to live according to love (2 John 5b-6).  If those who are negative influences among us will not change their ways, we may remove them from our faith community (1 Corinthians 5), but that is different from committing or condoning violence against them.  Consider, O reader, the treatment of the Aramean raiders in 2 Kings 6; making them guests at a lavish feast before repatriating them is far from being harsh toward them.

How we treat others–especially enemies and oppressors–is about who we are, not who they are.  We are supposed to be children of light, those who love God and our fellow human beings not because of signs and wonders but because of who God is and because to do so is the right thing to do.  We ought to dwell on a moral plain higher than the lowest common denominator.  This is frequently difficult, but it is possible, via grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FIRST DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON, ABOLITIONIST AND FEMINIST; AND MARIA STEWART, ABOLITIONIST, FEMINIST, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB AND DOROTHY BUXTON, FOUNDERS OF SAVE THE CHILDREN

THE FEAST OF FRANK MASON NORTH, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER

THE FEAST OF MARY CORNELIA BISHOP GATES, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/12/17/devotion-for-proper-9-year-d/

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Nationality and Discipleship   1 comment

World Map 1570

Above:   World Map 1570

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and most merciful God, your bountiful goodness fills all creation.

Keep us safe from all that may hurt us,

that, whole and well in body and spirit,

we may with grateful hearts accomplish all that you would have us to do,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Kings 5:15-19a (Monday)

2 Kings 5:19b-27 (Tuesday)

2 Kings 15:1-7 (Wednesday)

Psalm 61 (All Days)

Acts 26:24-29 (Monday)

Ephesians 6:10-20 (Tuesday)

Matthew 10:5-15 (Wednesday)

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So I will always sing he praise of your Name,

and day by day I will fulfill your vows.

–Psalm 61:8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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In the assigned readings for these three days we read of people accepting and recognizing God or doing the opposite.  Jews and Gentiles alike accept and recognize God.  Jews and Gentiles alike do the opposite.  The standard of acceptability before God has nothing to do with national identity.

This principle occurs elsewhere in scripture.  Off the top of my head, for example, I think of the Book of Ruth, in which a Moabite woman adopts the Hebrew faith and marries into a Hebrew family.  I recall also that Matthew 1:5 lists Ruth as an ancestor of Jesus.  That family tree also includes Rahab the prostitute (Joshua 2:1-21 and 6:22-25), who sheltered Hebrew spies in Jericho.  I think also of St. Simon Peter, who, at the home of St. Cornelius the Centurion, said:

The truth I have now come to realize is that God does not have favorites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.

–Acts 10:34-35, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Nationalism is inherently morally neutral.  What people do with it is not morally neutral, however.  These applications can be positive or negative.  Nationalism seems to be a human concern, not a divine one.  As we seek to build up our communities and nations may we not label those who are merely different as dangerous because of those differences.  Many of them might be people of God, after all.  Others might become followers of God.  Furthermore, many within our own ranks might not be devout.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 31, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VISITATION OF MARY TO ELIZABETH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-23-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Golden Rule, Part III   1 comment

Golden Rule

Above:   The Golden Rule, by Norman Rockwell

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Benevolent, merciful God:

When we are empty, fill us.

When we are weak in faith, strengthen us.

When we are cold in love, warm us,

that we may love our neighbors and

serve them for the sake of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Kings 18:1-8, 28-36 (Thursday)

2 Kings 19:8-20, 35-37 (Friday)

Isaiah 7:1-9 (Saturday)

Psalm 37:1-9 (All Days)

Revelation 2:8-11 (Thursday)

Revelation 2:12-29 (Friday)

Matthew 20:29-34 (Saturday)

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Put your trust in the LORD and do good;

dwell in the land and feed on its riches.

–Psalm 37:3, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The readings for these three days tell of the mercy–pity, even–of God.  In 2 Kings and Isaiah God delivers the Kingdom of Judah from threats.  The core message of Revelation is to remain faithful during persecution, for God will win in the end.  Finally, Jesus takes pity on two blind men and heals them in Matthew 20.

On the other side of mercy one finds judgment.  The Kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians in 2 Kings 17 and 2 Chronicles 32.  The Kingdom of Judah went on to fall to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 2 Kings 25 and 2 Chronicles 36.  The fall of Babylon (the Roman Empire) in Revelation was bad news for those who had profited from cooperation with the violent and economically exploitative institutions thereof (read Chapter 18).

In an ideal world all would be peace and love.  We do not live in an ideal world, obviously.  Certain oppressors will insist on oppressing.  Some of them will even invoke God (as they understand God) to justify their own excuse.  Good news for the oppressed, then, will necessarily entail bad news for the oppressors.  The irony of the situation is that oppressors.  The irony of the situation is that oppressors hurt themselves also, for whatever they do to others, they do to themselves.  That is a cosmic law which more than one religion recognizes.  Only victims are present, then, and some victims are also victimizers.

Loving our neighbors is much better, is it not?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 20, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALCUIN OF YORK, ABBOT OF TOURS

THE FEAST OF JOHN JAMES MOMENT, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF LUCY ELIZABETH GEORGINA WHITMORE, BRITISH HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/05/20/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-21-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Attachments and Idolatry   1 comment

Shalmaneser V

Above:   Shalmaneser V

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Direct us, O Lord God, in all our doings by your continual help,

that all our works, begun, continued, and ended in you,

may glorify your holy name; and finally, by your mercy,

bring us to everlasting life, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 47

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Kings 17:24-41 (Monday)

2 Kings 18:9-18 (Tuesday)

2 Kings 18:19-25; 19:1-7 (Wednesday)

Psalm 101 (All Days)

1 Timothy 3:14-4:5 (Monday)

1 Timothy 4:6-16 (Tuesday)

Luke 18:18-30 (Wednesday)

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Those who in secret slander their neighbors I will destroy;

those who have a haughty look and a proud heart I cannot abide.

My eyes are upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me,

and only those who lead a blameless life shall be my servants.

Those who act deceitfully shall not dwell in my house,

and those who tell lies shall not continue in my sight.

I will soon destroy all the wicked in the land,

that I may root out all evildoers from the city of the LORD.

–Psalm 101:5-8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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That depiction of God is consistent with the one in 2 Kings 17:25, in which, after the fall of the Kingdom of Israel to kill the Assyrians, God sent lions to kill some of the godless settlers.  That story troubles me, for, although I do not mistake God for a divine warm fuzzy, I do not confuse God for a vengeful thug either.

The emphasis in the composite pericope from 2 Kings, however, is on King Hezekiah of Judah (reigned 727/715-698/687 B.C.E.) and the predicament of his realm.  Judah had to pay tribute to Assyria, after all.  Furthermore, Rabshakeh, the envoy of King Shalmaneser V of Assyria (reigned 727-722 B.C.E.), blasphemed, claiming that God was on the side of Assyria and that the people should disregard Hezekiah, who advised trusting in God for deliverance.  In 2 Kings 19 God saved Judah from Assyrian forces.

We should trust in God, laying aside our attachments to fear, political power, military might, false teaching, and wealth, among other things.  In that list the only inherently negative item is false teaching.  Fear can save one’s life and protect one’s health, but it can also lead to violence, hatred, bigotry, and insensitivity to human needs.  Wealth is morally neutral, but how one relates to it is not.  The same principle applies to political power and military might.

Each of us has attachments which distract from God.  These attachments are therefore idols in so far as they distract from God.  We might not need to abstain from certain behaviors or goods to get closer to God, but we do need at least to redefine our relationships to them.  That is difficult, but it is possible via grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 18, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MALTBIE DAVENPORT BABCOCK, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN I, BISHOP OF ROME

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/05/18/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-18-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Trusting in God, Part V   1 comment

Icon of Elisha 02

Above:  Icon of Elisha

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Eternal light, shine in our hearts.

Eternal wisdom, scatter the darkness of our ignorance.

Eternal compassion, have mercy on us.

Turn us to seek your face, and enable us to reflect your goodness,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 51

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Kings 6:8-23 (Tuesday)

Jeremiah 33:1-11 (Wednesday)

Psalm 119:17-24 (Both Days)

Acts 9:32-35 (Tuesday)

Matthew 20:29-34 (Wednesday)

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Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good….Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves has fulfilled the law.

–Romans 12:17-21; 13:1, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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This is an interesting set of readings.  The pericopes from the New Testament are stories of individual healing, the portion of Psalm 119 expresses respect for and delight in divine law, the lesson from Jeremiah 33 promises divine healing of the Hebrew people after divine punishment thereof, and the account in 2 Kings 6 is odd.  Somehow Elisha is a clairvoyant who has God’s ear, delivers a force of Aramean raiders into the hands of the King of Israel, and advises giving them food and drink before releasing them.  (There is an interesting military tactic.)

A few thoughts come to mind:

  1. The motif of healing, both individual and collective, is strong. Even individual healing has a collective component, for it restores one to wholeness in his or her family, community, network of friends, et cetera.
  2. The humane treatment of the Aramean raiders demonstrates strength and reduces tensions.  The equivalent of stuffing one’s adversaries with tea and crumpets (if I may be British) is certainly unexpected and provides no incentive for further violence, at least in the short-term future.  It is also consistent with the ethics of Romans 12:17-21.
  3. The balance of judgment and mercy in God is a mystery I cannot even begin to unravel, so I more along to matters not too great for me.
  4. One should have a healthy sense of awe of and gratitude to God.  One can be confident in the faithfulness of God and therefore act boldly and properly, not foolishly and out of fear.

Perhaps the theme which unites these lessons best begins with the faithfulness of God to divine promises.  We, assured of that fidelity, will, by grace, act out of confidence in and obedience to God, in whom exist both judgment and mercy.  We will reap what we sow, either positive or negative.  If we trust God, we will feel sufficiently secure to act righteously, even to extend kindness to our enemies.  That ethic is consistent with the following passage from 1 Peter 3:

Finally, be united, all of you, in thought and feeling; be full of brotherly affection, kindly, and humble.  Do not repay wrong with wrong, or abuse with abuse; on the contrary, respond with a blessing, for a blessing is what God intends you to receive.

–Verses 8-9, The Revised English Bible (1989)

We humans make many of our worst decisions out of fear.  Often we make bad situations worse in so doing.  This generalization holds true in individual and collective settings.  Yet proper confidence in the faithfulness of God strips away the misconception that we must do something when we ought to get out of God’s way.  Letting go and letting God when doing that is appropriate precludes making foolish, fear-based decisions which reveal our lack of trust.  Ignorance is frequently a complicating factor in making good decisions, for how are we to know when to be active and when to be passive?

May we decide wisely, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 4, 2015 COMMON ERA

INDEPENDENCE DAY (U.S.A.)

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/devotion-for-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-25-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Humility Before God, Part I   1 comment

house-of-naaman-damascus

Above:  House of Naaman, Damascus, 1900-1920

Image Source = Library of Congress

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The Collect:

O God, our teacher and guide,

you draw us to yourself and welcome us as beloved children.

Help us to lay aside all envy and selfish ambition,

that we may walk in your ways of wisdom and understanding

as servants of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Kings 5:1-14 (Monday)

2 Kings 11:21-12:16 (Tuesday)

Psalm 139:1-18 (Both Days)

James 4:8-17 (Monday)

James 5:1-6 (Tuesday)

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LORD, you have searched me out and known me;

you know my sitting down and my rising up;

you discern my thoughts from afar.

–Psalm 139:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The Temple at Jerusalem was approximately 140 years old.  The Ark of the Covenant was there.  Repairing the structure of the Temple, which, like all buildings, required maintenance, should have been a priority long before King Jehoash made it one.  The lack of upkeep indicated an improper attitude toward God.

The proper attitude toward God includes humility.  God is God; none of us is God.  We depend entirely upon God (and rely upon each other), so any thought to the contrary is mistaken.  Our interdependence and mutual responsibility (to and for each other) leaves no room for sins such as oppression, exploitation, and gossiping.  Our total dependence on God leaves no room for excessive pride.

Naaman learned humility and monotheism.  Unfortunately, the narrative ended with the beginning of his journey back home.  I wonder how the experience at the River Jordan changed him and how that altered reality became manifest in his work and daily life.  I also wonder if that led to any negative consequences for him.

Martin Luther referred to James as an “epistle of straw.”  The letter’s emphasis on works (including justification by them) offended the reformer, who was reacting, not responding, to certain excesses and abuses of the Roman Catholic Church.  The epistle’s emphasis on works was–and remains–necessary, however.  The book’s condemnations of exploitation and hypocrisy have called proper attention to injustices and other sins for millennia.

I am not a wealthy landowner exploiting impoverished workers (James 5:1-6), but part of these days’ composite reading from the epistle speaks to me.  The condemnation of judging others (4:1-11) hits close to home.  My estimate is that judging others is the sin I commit most often.  If I am mistaken, judging others is one of the sins I commit most frequently.  I know better, of course, but like St. Paul the Apostle, I know well the struggle with sin and my total dependence upon God.  Knowing that one has a problem is the first step in the process of resolving it.

Caution against moral perfectionism is in order.  Public statements by relatives of victims of the White supremacist gunman who killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, South Carolina, have been impressive.  The capacity for forgiveness has come quickly to some.  I rejoice that divine grace is so richly evident in their lives.  For some of us (including the author), however, the capacity to forgive those who have committed lesser offenses has arrived later rather than sooner.  For others it remains in transit.  In any circumstance may it arrive in God’s time.  May the rest of us refrain from judging those struggling with that (and other) issues.

The Didache, an essential Christian text from the second century of the Common Era, opens with an explanation of the Way of Life (filling a page and a half in my copy) and the Way of Death (just one paragraph–about one-third of a page).  The accent on the positive aspect of morality is laudable.  The section on the two Ways ends with two sentences:

Take care that nobody tempts you away from the path of this Teaching, for such a man’s tuition can have nothing to do with God.  If you can shoulder the Lord’s yoke in its entirety, then you will be perfect; but if that is too much for you, do as much as you can.

Early Christian Writings:  The Apostolic Fathers (Penguin Books, 1987), p. 193

We, to succeed, even partially, depend on grace.  Even so, I am still trying to do as much as I can, to borrow language from the Didache, for human efforts are not worthless.  I am imperfect; there is much room for improvement.  Much has improved already, by grace.  The potential for spiritual growth excites me.  The only justifiable boast will be in God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 30, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN OLAF WALLIN, ARCHBISHOP OF UPPSALA AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR JAMES MOORE, UNITED METHODIST BISHOP IN GEORGIA

THE FEAST OF HEINRICH LONAS, GERMAN MORAVIAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND LITURGIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-proper-20-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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A Loving Orthodoxy   2 comments

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Above:  Icon of Christ the Merciful

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, our teacher and guide,

you draw us to yourself and welcome us as beloved children.

Help us to lay aside all envy and selfish ambition,

that we may walk in your ways of wisdom and understanding

as servants of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

Judges 6:1-10 (Thursday)

1 Kings 22:22-40 (Friday)

2 Kings 17:5-18 (Saturday)

Psalm 54 (All Days)

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (Thursday)

Romans 11:25-32 (Friday)

Matthew 23:29-39 (Saturday)

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Save me, O God, by your Name;

in your might, defend my cause.

Hear my prayer, O God;

give ear to the words of my mouth.

For the arrogant have risen up against me,

and the ruthless have sought my life,

those who have no regard for God.

Behold, God is my helper;

it is the Lord who sustains my life.

Render evil to those who spy on me;

in your faithfulness, destroy them.

I will offer you a freewill sacrifice

and praise your Name, O LORD, for it is good.

For you have rescued me from every trouble,

and my eye has seen the ruin of my foes.

–Psalm 54, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The prayer for divine destruction of enemies–hardly unique to Psalm 54–does violate the commandment to love one’s enemies as oneself, does it not?

Enemies exist.  In the pericopes for these three days alone we read of Midianites, monarchs, Assyrians, Arameans, and corrupt officials from the Temple at Jerusalem.  Furthermore, we, if we are to become properly informed, must know that many early Christians regarded Jews who rejected Jesus as enemies.  Christianity began as a Jewish sect, one which remained on the Jewish margins.  Frustrations over this reality became manifest in, among other texts, the Gospel of John, with its repeated references to “the Jews” in negative contexts.  Nevertheless, St. Paul the Apostle, who preached to Gentiles, was always Jewish.

Sometimes enemies are others.  On many occasions, however, one can find the enemy looking back at oneself in a mirror.  A recurring theological motif in the Hebrew Bible is that the exiles of Hebrew people resulted from rampant societal sinfulness; the collective was responsible.  That runs afoul of Western notions of individualism, but one finds it in the pages of the Bible.  There are at least two varieties of responsibility and sin–individual and collective.  We are responsible to God, for ourselves, and to and for each other.  Thus reward and punishment in the Hebrew Bible are both individual and collective.  Sometimes, the texts tell us, we bring destruction on ourselves.

But how does that translate into language regarding God?  May we take care not to depict God as a cosmic tyrant while investing that God is also merciful.  Yes, actions have consequences for ourselves and those around us.  Yes, God has sent many prophets, a large number of whom have endured the consequences of rejection.  Yes, both judgment and mercy exist in God.  I do not presume to know where the former ends and the latter begins; such matters are too great for me, a mere mortal.

No, I reject false certainty and easy answers.  No variety of fundamentalism is welcome here.  No, I embrace what St. Paul the Apostle called

the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God,

complete with

his judgments

and

inscrutable ways.–Romans 11:33, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

I favor “the mystery of God,” as in 1 Corinthians 2:1, as well as a relationship with God, which depends on divine faithfulness, not on human wisdom.

Kenneth J. Foreman, writing in Volume 21 (1961) of The Layman’s Bible Commentary, noted in reference to 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:

One point to note is that Paul does not present Christianity as a set of dogmas or as a manual of advice.  It is a story, something that happened, something God has done.–Page 75

Orthodoxy can be healthy, so long as it is neither stale nor unloving.  Pietism, with its legalism, is quite unfortunate.  Pietism, a reaction against stale orthodoxy, is at least as objectionable as that which it opposes.

Some thoughts of Dr. Carl J. Sodergren (1870-1949), a theologian of the former Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church (1860-1962), from 1937 apply well in the context of these pericopes and many circumstances:

Orthodoxy is good.  It means adherence to the truth, and no sane man would willingly surrender that.  But orthodoxy without love is dangerous.  It provides fertile soil for bigotry, hatred, spiritual pride, self-conceit, and a score of other evils which hide the Holy One from the eyes of the world.  It turns men into merciless heresy hunters, the most contemptible vermin on earth.  It aligns us with the scribes and Pharisees, the priests and high priests of the time of Jesus.  Nobody ever questioned their orthodoxy, but because it was loveless, it blinded them to His divinity and made it easier to spike Him to a cross.  We are not worried about the trumpet calls to orthodoxy which for some reason have begun to blare may drown out in our hearts the still small voice which prays for unity and love among all Christ’s disciples.

–Quoted in G. Everett Arden, Augustana Heritage:  A History of the Augustana Lutheran Church (Rock Island, IL:  Augustana Press, 1963), pp. 287-288

May love of God and for each other be evident in our lives and social structures and institutions.  Wherever it is evident, may it increase.  May we obey the divine commandment to take care of each other, not to exploit anyone or to discriminate against any person.  The Golden Rule is difficult to live, but we have God’s grace available to us; may we avail ourselves of it.  We also have an example–Jesus–to follow.  May his love be evident (then more so) in us, especially those of us who claim to follow him or to attempt to do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 30, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN OLAF WALLIN, ARCHBISHOP OF UPPSALA AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR JAMES MOORE, UNITED METHODIST BISHOP IN GEORGIA

THE FEAST OF HEINRICH LONAS, GERMAN MORAVIAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND LITURGIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-20-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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