Archive for the ‘2 Peter 2’ Category

Redemption and Related Responsibilities   1 comment

Sky with Rainbow

Above:   Sky with Rainbow

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, overflowing with mercy and compassion,

you lead back to yourself all those who go astray.

Preserve your people in your loving care,

that we may reject whatever is contrary to you

and may follow all things that sustain our life in

your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 47

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 6:1-6 (Thursday)

Genesis 7:6-10; 8:1-5 (Friday)

Genesis 8:20-9:7 (Saturday)

Psalm 51:1-10 (All Days)

1 Timothy 1:1-11 (Thursday)

2 Peter 2:1-10a (Friday)

John 10:11-21 (Saturday)

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Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth,

a sinner from my mother’s womb.

–Psalm 51:6, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The comedian Lewis Black told a joke explaining why God seems more violent in the Hebrew Bible than in the New Testament.  Having a son calmed him down.  That is, of course, bad theology, for it falls under the heading of the Arian heresy.  Furthermore, the God of the Book of Revelation is not the deity of “Kum ba Yah,” a song I despise for several reasons.  The Smiter-in-Chief is in full form in the composite story of Noah, based on older stories.

Rewritten folklore and mythology in the Bible presents us with the opportunity to ponder profound theology.  We might think that we know a particular tale better than we actually do, so we ought to avoid switching on the automatic pilot.  Human immorality saddens God’s heart in Genesis 6:6, but Noah has found favor with God.  “Noah,” in Hebrew, is “favor” spelled backward.  A note in The Jewish Study Bible–Second Edition (2014) tells me that this

indicates that human perversion and divine grief will not be the last word.

–page 19

Furthermore, the Hebrew word for the ark occurs in just one other story in the Hebrew Bible.  It applies also to the basket containing young Moses in Exodus 2.  AgainThe Jewish Study Bible–Second Edition (2014) helps me dig deeper into the scriptures:

Noah foreshadows Moses even as Moses, removed from the water, foreshadows the people Israel, whom he leads to safety through the death-dealing sea that drowns their oppressors (Exod. chs 14-15).  The great biblical tale of redemption occurs first in a shorter, universal form, then in a longer, particularistic one.

–page 20

The author of Psalm 51 (traditionally King David, but knows for sure?) understood human sinfulness well.  So did the author of 1 Timothy, writing under the name of St. Paul the Apostle.  Laws, he noted,

are not framed for people who are good.

–1:9, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

That statement applies to divine law, certainly.  Indeed, in context, it pertains to the Law of Moses.  That code, containing timeless principles and culturally specific examples thereof, sometimes becomes a confusing array of laws.  Many people mistake culturally specific examples for timeless principles, thereby falling into legalism.  The pillars of that code are:

  1. We mere mortals are totally dependent on God,
  2. We humans depend upon each other also,
  3. We humans are responsible for each other, and
  4. We humans are responsible to each other.

Turning to John 10, we read of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  The sheep need the shepherd, who protects them and lays down his life for them.  The sheep also know the shepherd’s voice.  I, as a Christian, am one of the sheep.  I know my need for God and the ease with which I yield to many temptations.  The laws of God exist for people such as me.  Divine guidance and redemption play out in my life.

The individual part of religion is important, of course, but it is hardly everything.  The collective aspect is crucial also.  This truth is especially evident in Judaism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Roman Catholicism.  Much of Protestantism, however, has gone overboard with regard to individualism.  Redemption is not just my story or your story.  No, it is our story as we relate to God and God relates to us.  Society exerts a powerful influence upon our notions of morality and reverence; it shapes us, just as we influence it.  May we be salt and light, shaping society according to the four pillars of the Law of Moses and according to the unconditional and free (yet not cheap) love of God.

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-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-19-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Spiritual Parasites on Power Trips   1 comment

Corn Parasites

Above:  Corn Parasites, 1942

Photographer = Jack Delano

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USW3-002652-D

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The Collect:

O Lord God, you led your people through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land.

Guide us now, so that, following your Son, we may walk safely through the wilderness of this world

toward the life you alone can give, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 27

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The Assigned Readings:

Zechariah 3:1-10

Psalm 17

2 Peter 2:4-21

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Keep me as the apple of your eye;

hide me under the shadow of your wings,

From the wicked who assault me,

from my enemies who surround me to take away my life.

–Psalm 17:8-9, Common Worship (2000)

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The setting for the pericope from Zechariah was post-Exilic Judea.  Returned exiles lived within the Persian Empire, and the high priest occupied a position of political leadership.  In Zechariah 3 one Joshua went through a purification process in order to become the next high priest.  The Accuser (the Satan), working for God, participated in the process.  (The theology of Satan had yet to shift, thereby transforming him into an evil rogue.)  At the end of the pericope came a prophecy of a messianic age of peace.

That age has yet to arrive.  Jesus of Nazareth has come and gone in the flesh, and the promised messianic age of peace and justice has yet to arrive.  In the meantime advice from 2 Peter 2 proves helpful.  We who claim to follow God–in Christ, specifically–ought to avoid false teachers who embrace worldly corruption.

The historical context of 2 Peter 2 is the early phase of development of major Christian doctrines.  The author, writing as if he were St. Simon Peter in the late first century or early second century C.E., defended the orthodoxy of the teachings of the Apostles and their successors taught it.  Earliest Christianity was, like the Church of today, rife with factionalism.  Unlike today, however, the definition of the canon of scripture remained an unsettled issue, as did major questions of Christology.  The process of writing the texts of the New Testament might have still been in progress, in fact.  Furthermore, debates regarding Christology continued for centuries.  Councils of bishops met during the first five centuries of Christianity to address questions such as how many wills Jesus had.  Even some Christian theologians of the third century C.E., orthodox by the standards of their time, became ex post facto heretics posthumously in the fourth century, as the church refined its Trinitarian theology.

The real issue in 2 Peter 2, however, seems to have been the motives of the spiritual seducers–false prophets.  They accepted bribes from non-Christians to disrupt the young movement.  Many Christians proved to be vulnerable to their siren songs and committed apostasy, that is, falling away from God.  These apostates, pursuing the promise of freedom, found spiritual slavery instead.

These words of caution remain current, unfortunately.  They speak not of well-intentioned yet sincerely wrong people but of spiritual parasites on power trips.  This brings me to the topic of cults.  Many people use that word too loosely.  I use “cult” not in the academic, anthropological sense nor to describe a religious group whose teachings I consider merely false.  No, I use “cult” to mean a predatory religious group with false teachings.  The Church of Scientology is a cult by this definition.  The late Jim Jones led a cult.

Each of us has a God-shaped spiritual hole which only God can fill properly.  Many of us attempt to fill that hole with a variety of substitutes for God, but none of them can stand in for God.  Unfortunately, many of us fail to recognize this reality.

May we who follow Christ, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light, persist in spiritual freedom.  And may those trapped in spiritual slavery find their freedom in God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 13, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY MARTYN DEXTER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HISTORIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABBO OF FLEURY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT BRICE OF TOURS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS TAVELIC AND HIS COMPANIONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/13/devotion-for-tuesday-after-the-first-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Posted November 13, 2015 by neatnik2009 in 2 Peter 2, Psalm 17, Zechariah

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Taking God Seriously   1 comment

Hophni and Phinehas

Above:  Hophni and Phinehas

Image in the Public Domain

Taking God Seriously

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The Collect:

O God, generous and supreme, your loving Son lived among us,

instructing us in the ways of humility and justice.

Continue to ease our burdens, and lead us to serve alongside of him,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 51

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 2:27-36 (Thursday)

Ezekiel 13:1-16 (Friday)

Malachi 1:6-2:9 (Saturday)

Psalm 43 (All Days)

Romans 2:17-29 (Thursday)

2 Peter 2:1-3 (Friday)

Matthew 23:13-28 (Saturday)

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Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me,

and bring me to your holy hill

and to your dwelling;

That I may go to the altar of God,

to the God of my joy and gladness;

and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God.

–Psalm 43:3-4, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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There are at least two ways to be wrong:  sincerely and insincerely.  Certainly there have always been those people who lead others astray knowingly.  The majority of false teachers and prophets over time, I propose, have not known of their error.  They have been the blind leading the blind, with disastrous results for all involved.

A brief catalog of named errors I have compiled from these days’ readings follows:

  1. Fixating on relatively minor points at the expense of relatively major ones,
  2. Acting disrespectfully of sacred rituals, and
  3. Acting disrespectfully of sacred places.

People of good faith disagree about what constitutes an example of the first point.  Is insisting on the circumcision of males an example of it?  St. Paul the Apostle, in his reformed state, thought so.  Yet the practice was a major point in the Old Testament and a mark of Jewish identity.  As you probably know, O reader, identity is a sensitive psychological issue.  That seems to be the reality for Jews of today who fall back upon identity and the theology of covenant when defending the practice against secular critics.  I am somewhat sympathetic to these faithful Jews.

In St. Paul’s day the question focused on the issue of whether a Gentile had to convert to Judaism before becoming a Christian.  At the time Christianity was still a Jewish sect, after all.  Thus issues of identity, inclusion, and exclusion collided.  The Apostle sided with inclusion, as I tend to do.  Reflecting on the readings for the previous post led to me to write about removing barriers to trusting in God, upon whom we depend completely.  In that spirit, then, should we not remove barriers to coming to God, who beckons us?

May we, while taking God and divine commandments seriously, do so in ways which smooth the path to salvation, not construct barriers to it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 4, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL CHRISTIAN PEACEMAKERS AND PEACE ACTIVISTS

THE FEAST OF ALBERT SCHWEITZER, MEDICAL MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF PAUL JONES, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF UTAH AND WITNESS FOR PEACE

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/09/04/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-26-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Arguing Faithfully With God, Part I   1 comment

Job and God

Above:  God Speaking to Job; from a Byzantine Manuscript

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God our defender, storms rage around and within us and cause us to be afraid.

Rescue your people from despair, deliver your sons daughters from fear,

and preserve us in the faith of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 7:11-8:5 (Monday)

Genesis 19:1-29 (Tuesday)

Job 36:24-33; 37:14-24 (Wednesday)

Psalm 18:1-19 (All Days)

2 Peter 2:4-10 (Monday)

Romans 9:14-29 (Tuesday)

Matthew 8:23-27 (Wednesday)

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Faithful and pure, blameless and perfect–

yet to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.

Your holy light shines on my darkness;

my steps are guided, my vigor renewed.

Your law will shape my heart and my mind,

letting me find richest blessing.

–Martin Leckebusch, Verse 3, “Refuge and Rock,” a paraphrase of Psalm 18 in Psalms for All Seasons:  A Complete Psalter for Worship (2012)

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Elihu, in the Book of Job, was a pious idiot.  He condemned Job for challenging God and was sure that the titular character of the text must have done something wrong, for surely a just deity would not permit the innocent to suffer.

The Almighty–we cannot find him;

he is great in power and justice,

and abundant righteousness he will not violate.

Therefore mortals fear him;

he does not regard any who are wise in their conceit.

–Job 37:23-24, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The Book of Job 1 and 2, had established, however, that God had permitted this suffering as a test of loyalty.  And, starting in Chapter 38, when God spoke to Job, one of the most impatient people in the Bible (despite the inaccurate cliché about the “patience of Job”), the divine reply contained no apology.

(Yes, I know of the layers of composition in the Book of Job, that Elihu’s section was not part of the original text and that the prose wraparounds came later, but I am, in this post, treating the book as a whole, as we have received the final version.)

The readings from Genesis contain parts of accounts of divine destruction of the wicked and sparing of some people in the process.  The men of Sodom were as anxious to rape women as they were to violate angels, so their issue was not homosexual orientation or practice but violence against almost anyone on two legs.  Their sin involved the opposite of hospitality in a place and at a time when the lack of hospitality could prove fatal for guests or world-be guests.  Lot was morally troublesome, for he offered his virgin daughters to the rape gang.  Those same daughters got him drunk and committed incest with him later in the chapter.  Abraham had at least negotiated with God in an attempt to save lives in Genesis 18:20-33, but Noah did nothing of the sort in his time, according to the stories we have received.

Sometimes the faithful response to God is to argue, or at least to ask, “Did I hear you right?”  The Bible contains references to God changing the divine mind and to God holding off judgment for a time.  I am keenly aware of the unavoidable anthropomorphism of the deity in the Bible, so I attempt to see through it, all the way to the reality behind it.  That divine reality is mysterious and ultimately unfathomable.  The titular character of the Book of Job was correct to assert his innocence, which the text had established already, but, in the process of doing so he committed the same error as did Elihu and the three main alleged friends; he presumed to think to know how God does or should work.

This occupies my mind as I read elsewhere (than in the mouth of Elihu or one of the three main alleged friends of Job) about the justice, judgment, and mercy of God.  I recall that the prophet Jeremiah argued with God bitterly and faithfully–often for vengeance on enemies.  I think also of the repeated cries for revenge and questions of “how long?” in the Book of Psalms and the placement of the same lament in the mouths of martyrs in Heaven in the Book of Revelation.  And I recall how often God has extended mercy to me in my ignorance, faithlessness, and panic-driven errors.  I conclude that I must continue to seek to embrace the mystery of God, rejecting temptations to accept false and deceptively easy answers as I choose the perhaps difficult alternative of a lack of an answer or a satisfactory reply instead.  God is God; I am not.  That much I know.  Nevertheless, some more answers from God might be good to have.  May the faithful argument continue.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 14, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MATTHEW BRIDGES, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT CAMILLUS DE LELLIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAMSON OCCUM, PRESBYTERIAN PASTOR

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/07/14/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-14-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Judgment and Mercy, Part IV   2 comments

jesushealstwo

Above:  Jesus Heals Two Blind Men, by Julius Schnorr

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, you are the source of life and the ground of our being.

By the power of your Spirit bring healing to this wounded world,

and raise us to the new life of your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 38

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The Assigned Readings:

Lamentations 1:7-11 (Thursday)

Lamentations 3:40-58 (Friday)

Exodus 34:1-9 (Saturday)

Psalm 50:7-15 (All Days)

2 Peter 2:17-22 (Thursday)

Acts 28:1-10 (Friday)

Matthew 9:27-34 (Saturday)

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Hear, O my people, and I will speak:

“I will testify against you, O Israel;

for I am God, your God….”

–Psalm 50:7, Common Worship (2000)

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The assigned readings for these three days juxtapose divine judgment and mercy. The metaphors for the consequences of sin are quite graphic. They do not make for good mealtime conversation, but at least they convey the point well.

There is also extravagant mercy with God. In Matthew 9:27-34, for example, Jesus healed two blind men and a mute whom others in his culture considered a demoniac. I, being a product of the Scientific Revolution and the subsequent Enlightenment, reject the Hellenistic notion that demonic possession causes muteness. No, I seek psychological explanations. None of that changes the reality of restoration to community. Those three men were marginal prior to their healing. The blind men might have even accepted the commonplace assumption that someone’s sin had caused their lack of vision. The lifting of that spiritual burden must have been wonderful also.

We must exercise caution to avoid becoming trapped in a simplistic and false concept of God. Such a false concept is an idol, for it occupies the place God should fill. With God there are great depths of mercy yet also the reality of potential judgment. As a prayer for Good Friday from The Book of Common Prayer (1979) reads:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set your passion, cross, and death between your judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and grace to the living; pardon and rest to the dead; to your holy Church peace and concord; and to us sinners everlasting life and glory; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

–Page 282

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 14, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS MAKEMIE, FATHER OF U.S. PRESBYTERIANISM

THE FEAST OF EDWARD HENRY BICKERSTETH, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF EXETER

THE FEAST OF JOHN ROBERTS/IEUAN GWYLLT, FOUNDER OF WELSH SINGING FESTIVALS

THE FEAST OF NGAKUKU, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-5-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Ideal Kingdom   1 comment

Above:  Tree of Jesse from St. Peters’ Cathedral, Worms, Germany

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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:

Isaiah 11:1-12:6

Psalm 50 (Morning)

Psalms 14 and 16 (Evening)

2 Peter 2:1-22

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All this shows that the Lord is well able to rescue the good from their trials, and hold the wicked for their punishment until the Day of Judgement.

–2 Peter 2:9, The New Jerusalem Bible

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Some Related Posts:

Isaiah 11-12:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/eighth-day-of-advent-second-sunday-of-advent-year-a/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/advent-devotion-for-december-22/

A Prayer for Compassion:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/a-prayer-for-compassion/

The Remnant:

http://taylorfamilypoems.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/the-remnant/

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The lovely and familiar reading from Isaiah flows immediately from the end of Chapter 10.  God will topple mighty cedars of Lebanon (poetic stand-ins for Assyria),

But a shoot shall grow out of the stump of Jesse,

A twig shall sprout from his stock.

–Isaiah 11:1, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

The twig will be the ideal king who will mete out justice, punish the wicked, and raise up the downtrodden.  God’s peace will reign and exiles will return.

The state of affairs was not nearly as rosy when exiles did return; read Ezra and Nehemiah for details.  What, then, are we supposed to make of this prediction?  That time has yet to come; this is my proposed answer.

We read in Isaiah 11:1-12:6 of what God will do.  By the time of 2 Peter 2, Jesus had come and gone, having fulfilled his mission.  That was another thing God had done.  Yet the Roman Empire remained firmly in control.  The ideal kingdom was still in the future tense.  The author of 2 Peter reminded his audience of some more of God’s past deeds, namely sparing Noah and family as well as destroying the equal-opportunity would-be rapists (heterosexual and homosexual) of Sodom of Gomorrah.  God had rescued the just then; God would do it again.

So we continue to wait for the ideal kingdom of God.  The evil still oppress the good.  Those who act righteously still suffer because of unintended consequences of well-intentioned laws and of flaws in legal systems.  Many people who think that they are righteous actually oppress the righteous.  Maybe even we have committed evil unwittingly while trying to perform good deeds.

The most basic good deed I know is one consistent with compassion and measured objectively according to results.  We can know a tree by its fruits.  This is a matter of results, not ideology, which is often oblivious to evidence.

So, as we do our best to act compassionately, may we not lose hope that divine promises of deliverance of the good are reliable.  God’s timing, after all, is not ours.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 10, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN ROBERTS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF KARL BARTH, SWISS REFORMED THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF THOMAS MERTON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MONK

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http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/devotion-for-december-5-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Posted August 5, 2012 by neatnik2009 in 2 Peter 2, Isaiah 11, Psalm 14, Psalm 16, Psalm 50

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The Faithfulness of God, Part I   1 comment

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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

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Adapted from this post:

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

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