Archive for the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ Category

The Scandal of Grace at Christmas   1 comment

Above:  Angels Announcing Christ’s Birth to the Shepherds, by Govert Flinck

Image in the Public Domain

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

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God, you make us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ.

Grant that we may joyfully receive him as our Redeemer,

so we may with sure confidence behold him when comes to be our judge,

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

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 76

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Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 (Protestant)/Isaiah 9:1, 5-6 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Psalm 5

Galatians 4:1-7

Luke 2:1-20

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The setting of Luke 2 is troublesome within itself.  There was no such imperial census, we know from historical records, but there was a regional census in Judea (not in the Galilee) in 6 and 7 C.E., written records tell us.  Father Raymond E. Brown, in his magisterial Introduction to the New Testament, states that Luke’s account gets historical details wrong.  Brown also argues that Luke-Acts speaks of a divine plan set inside the Roman Empire.  The text of Luke-Acts contextualizes the birth of Jesus in the reign of the Emperor Augustus (Luke 2) and concludes with the arrival of St. Paul the Apostle in Rome (Acts 28).  Brown writes of the song of the angels to the shepherds.  That song, he insists, is similar to an imperial proclamation in an empire that labeled Augustus the savior of the world.  The point is plain:  Christ is greater than Augustus.

In Psalm 5 the beleaguered author (allegedly David) seeks divine deliverance from his enemies.  He, referring to the Temple, writes,

But I can enter your house

because of your great love.

–Verse 8a, The New American Bible

In Christ we have the Temple in the flesh.  This is the Temple that became flesh out of great love.

The reading from Isaiah 9 is a description of the ideal Davidic king.  One probably thinks most intensely about the ideal ruler when one’s ruler falls far short of the ideal and does not try to live up to that ideal.  Otherwise one might extol the virtues of one’s ruler instead.  In this case the ideal Davidic king, according to the standard, traditional English-language translations is, as The New Revised Standard Version (1989) states:

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

–Verse 6c

Perhaps the familiar language obscures the meaning of the Hebrew text.  Consider then, O reader, the translation from TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985):

The Mighty God is planning grace;

The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler.

–Verse 5c

This version cuts to the chase nicely; God is planning grace.  We find another example of that grace in Galatians 3 and 4.  At the end of Galatians 3 we read in a glorious and duly famous passage that, through Jesus, Gentile believers join the ranks of Jews as “sons of God,” a term that indicates being the Chosen People, as in Deuteronomy 14:1-2.  With grace, such as that which makes people “sons of God,” also comes responsibility to shed the light of God brightly.  That is fair.  Grace is free yet certainly not cheap, for it requires much of its recipients.  That is fair.

Traditional categories, such as Jews, Greeks, slaves, free people, males, and females do not divide “sons of God,” all of whom are heirs of God.  That is wonderful news!  Why, then, do so many of us maintain, magnify, and create categories for the purpose of defining ourselves as the in-crowd and other “sons of God” as outsiders?  All who do so demonstrate that they prefer psychological comfort to the scandal of grace.

Grace is scandalous.  By means of it we receive more than we deserve; so do people we dislike strongly.  We, like the author of Psalm 5, want better than we deserve yet desire the worst for our foes.  By means of grace a defenseless newborn boy is greater than Augustus Caesar.  Much is possible via grace.

Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 29, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE BEHEADING OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

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Revere God and Observe His Commandments   1 comment

Above:   Icon of St. Paul the Apostle

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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Ecclesiastes 12

Psalm 144:1-8

Acts 27:39-28:10

John 12:44-50

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The sum of the matter, when all is said and done:  Revere God and observe His commandments!  For this applies to all mankind:  that God will call every creature to account for everything unknown, be it good or bad.

–Ecclesiastes 12:13-14a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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God is everlasting; we are not.  God’s purpose will become reality, regardless of whether we cooperate with them.  We do have a responsibility to be servants, not enemies, of God, or even to be disinterested parties.  We are inconsequential relative to God, but what we do and do not do matters.

Divine judgment is a theme in the reading from Ecclesiastes.  The other half of the equation, of course, is mercy–in the Christian context, via Jesus.  One context in which to read scripture is other scripture.  We read of the coming of the Holy Spirit, in its role as the Advocate–literally, defense attorney–in John 14:15.  God is on our side.  Are we on God’s side?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 21, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALOYSIUS GONZAGA, JESUIT

THE FEAST OF CARL BERNHARD GARVE, GERMAN MORAVIAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN JONES AND JOHN RIGBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2017/06/21/devotion-for-proper-28-ackerman/

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New Life   1 comment

Above:   Samson in the Temple of Dagon, by Gustave Dore

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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Judges 16:1-5, 16-31

Psalm 119:17-24

Acts 20:7-12

John 6:37-40

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Samson was a foolish, reckless man who paved the way to his downfall.  His great accomplishment (deliverance for Israel) was also an act of revenge marked by a body count exceeding that to his life before then.  He was quite different from the author of Psalm 119, who was pious.

Eutychus was also foolish, for he fell asleep in a third-story window.  He suffered fatal injuries, but St. Paul the Apostle raised the young man from the dead.

New life is a theme in John 6:37-40, in which Jesus speaks of eternal and everlasting life.  In the Gospel of John eternal life is knowing God via Christ (17:3).  Everlasting life is simply the afterlife.  In Johannine theology there is no eternal life apart from God in Christ.  So may nobody commit the theological error of speaking or writing of eternity apart from God.

New life can be physical or spiritual, but it is also a gift from God.  May we use it for the glory of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDITH BOYLE MACALISTER, ENGLISH NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE VIALAR, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE APPARITION

THE FEAST OF JANE CROSS BELL SIMPSON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TERESA AND MAFALDA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESSES, QUEENS, AND NUNS; AND SANCHIA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESS AND NUN

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/devotion-for-proper-13-ackerman/

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Compassion and the Sabbath   1 comment

Above:   Christ Healing, by Rembrandt van Rijn

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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Numbers 12:1-15

Psalm 53

Acts 12:6-19

Luke 14:2-6

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The standard English-language translation of the opening line of Psalms 14 and 53 is that a fool thinks that there is no God.   However, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) has the benighted man thinking that God does not care.   This gets to the point of practical atheism, not the modern, widespread reality of theoretical atheism, rare in the ancient Middle East.  Indeed, God cares jealously in the Bible.  God objects strenuously whenever someone challenges Moses.  God also sends an angel to break St. Simon Peter out of prison.

The portion from Luke 14 exists within a larger narrative context–the eschatological banquet, symbolic of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus is at a banquet at the home of a leading Pharisee on the Sabbath.   In the reading assigned for today our Lord and Savior heals a man afflicted with dropsy, or severe retention of fluid.  The fact that he does this on the Sabbath becomes controversial immediately.  Jesus rebuts that even they rescue a child or an ox from a well on the Sabbath.  They cannot argue against him.

Father Raymond E. Brown, in his magisterial Introduction to the New Testament (1997), wrote the following:

Actually at Qumran there was a prohibition of pulling a newborn animal our of a pit on the Sabbath (CD 11:13-14).

–Page 248

Every day is a proper day to act out of compassion, according to Jesus, although not the community at Qumran.

In the great eschatological banquet the blind, the lame, the poor, and the crippled are welcome–even preferred guests.   One ought to invite them because it is the right thing to do.  One should commit good deeds out of compassion and piety, not the desire for reciprocal treatment.  Grace is not transactional.

The temptation to relate to God in transactional terms is a powerful one.  It is, among other things, a form of works-based righteousness, a major theological error.  Keeping the Covenant, at its best, is a matter of faithful response to God.  (“If you love me, keep my commandments.”–John 14:15)  However useful having a list of instructions can be, that list can easily become for one a checklist to manipulate, until one violates major tenets while honoring minor facets.  In the Jewish tradition one finds longstanding recognition of a summary of the Law of Moses:  Love God fully and one’s neighbor as oneself.

So healing a man on the Sabbath should not be controversial, should it?  (John 7:22-24)

But what about Sabbath laws?  There is a death penalty for working on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36), except when there is not (Leviticus 12:3).  If the eighth day of a boy’s life falls on the Sabbath, the circumcision of the child must, according to the Law of Moses, occur on the Sabbath.  But do not dare to collect sticks on the Sabbath!   Removing part of a male on the Sabbath is permissible, so why not making someone whole?

Every day is a good day to act compassionately, according to Jesus.  God cares about the needs of people each day.  So should we.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDITH BOYLE MACALISTER, ENGLISH NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE VIALAR, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE APPARITION

THE FEAST OF JANE CROSS BELL SIMPSON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TERESA AND MAFALDA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESSES, QUEENS, AND NUNS; AND SANCHIA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESS AND NUN

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/devotion-for-proper-9-ackerman/

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Wasted Potential   1 comment

Above:   Gamaliel

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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Genesis 32:3-7a; 33:1-4

Psalm 44:23-26

Acts 5:33-42

John 8:12-29

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Awake, O Lord!  Why are you sleeping?

Arise, do not reject us forever.

Why have you hidden your face

and forgotten our affliction and oppression?

We sink down into the dust;

our body cleaves to the ground.

Rise up, and help us,

and save us, for the sake of your steadfast love.

–Psalm 44:23-26, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Psalm 44 is a national lament, but one might read the text and identify with it.  Such is the timeless quality of the Book of Psalms.

God gets to judge.  Jesus says in John 8 that he does not judge yet others do.  We read of Jacob and Esau reconciling in Genesis 33.  If we continue reading, however, we learn that the peace did not survive them.  We read in Acts 5 that Gamaliel was slow to judge.  I conclude that, had more early Christians and contemporary Jews been more like Gamaliel, the subsequent course of Jewish-Christian relations would have been better.

The wasted potential of what Jacob, Esau, and Gamaliel sought to do haunts me.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 2, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIGISMUND OF BURGUNDY, KING; SAINT CLOTILDA, FRANKISH QUEEN; AND SAINT CLODOALD, FRANKISH PRINCE AND ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT ATHANASIUS OF ALEXANDRIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JAMES LEWIS MILLIGAN, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCULF OF NANTEUIL, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-after-the-epiphany-ackerman/

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Troublemakers   1 comment

Judah and Tamar--School of Rembrandt van Rijn

Above:   Judah and Tamar, by the School of Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, our eternal redeemer, by the presence of your Spirit you renew and direct our hearts.

Keep always in our mind the end of all things and the day of judgment.

Inspire us for a holy life here, and bring us to the joy of the resurrection,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 25:5-10 (Thursday)

Genesis 38:1-26 (Friday)

Psalm 17 (Both Days)

Acts 22:22-23:11 (Thursday)

Acts 24:10-23 (Friday)

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Let my vindication come forth from your presence,

let your eyes be fixed on justice.

–Psalm 17:2, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Genesis 38 serves several functions.  One is to mark the passage of time between Genesis 37 and 39.  Another is to make people squirm.  What should one make of a story in which Tamar, the heroine, the wronged woman denied what was due her according to levirate marriage (described in Deuteronomy 25), had to resort to posing as a pagan temple prostitute to seduce her father-in-law to get the child(ren) she deserved, according to social customs meant to protect childless widows?  Due to problems with her first husband’s brothers the duty fell to Judah, her father-in-law.

I remember that, in 1996, at Asbury United Methodist Church, north of Baxley in Appling County, Georgia, an adult Sunday School class read the Book of Genesis at the rate of a chapter per week.  One Sunday that summer the time came to ponder Chapter 38.  The leader of the class skipped to Genesis 39, for he found the contents to be too hot a potato, so to speak.

The story of Judah and Tamar continues to make many readers of the Hebrew Bible uncomfortable.  Tamar remains a troublemaker of sorts, long after her death.  Perhaps modern readers who struggle with the tale should think less about our comfort levels and more about the lengths to which certain people need to go to secure basic needs.

St. Paul the Apostle got into legal trouble (again) in Acts 21.  The trumped-up charge boiled down to him being a troublemaker, a disturber of the peace.  As Tertullus, the attorney for chief priest Ananias and Temple elders argued before Felix, the governor:

We found this man to be a pest, a fomenter of discord among the Jews all over the world, a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.  He made an attempt to profane the temple and we arrested him.

–Acts 24:5-6, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Were not those who plotted and attempted to kill St. Paul the real troublemakers?  He planned or committed no violence toward those with whom he disagreed.  The Apostle knew how to employ strong language, but he avoided resorting to violence after his conversion.

How we deal with alleged troublemakers reveals much about our character.  What, then, does this standard reveal about your character, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LIPHARDUS OF ORLEANS AND URBICIUS OF MEUNG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF UGANDA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MORAND OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND MISSIONARY

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-proper-27-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Ego and Humility   1 comment

Apostle Paul

Above:   The Apostle Paul, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Compassionate God, you have assured the human family of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

Deliver us from the death of sin, and raise us to new life,

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 39

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Samuel 14:1-11 (Thursday)

2 Samuel 14:12-24 (Friday)

2 Samuel 14:25-33 (Saturday)

Psalm 30 (All Days)

Acts 22:6-21 (Thursday)

Acts 26:1-11 (Friday)

Matthew 9:2-8 (Saturday)

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To you, Yahweh, I call,

to my God I cry for mercy.

–Psalm 30:8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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We read of forgiveness in the lections from the New Testament.  Saul of Tarsus receives forgiveness and a new mandate from God.  (Grace is free yet not cheap.)  Jesus forgives a man’s sins during a healing in Matthew 9.  Critics who are present think that our Lord and Savior is committing blasphemy, for their orthodoxy makes no room for Jesus.  The healed man becomes a former paralytic, but Christ’s critics suffer from spiritual paralysis.

The language of 2 Samuel 14 indicates that King David has not reconciled with his son Absalom, who had killed his (Absalom’s) half-brother, Amnon, who had raped his (Absalom’s) sister, Tamar, in the previous chapter before he (Absalom) had gone into exile.  The entire incident of pseudo-reconciliation had been for the benefit of Joab.  The false reconciliation proved to be as useless as false grace, for Absalom, back from exile, was plotting a rebellion, which he launched in the next chapter.

The juxtaposition of Saul of Tarsus/St. Paul the Apostle, the paralyzed man, and Absalom is interesting and helpful.  Both Saul/Paul and Absalom had egos, but the former struggled with his self-image as he made a pilgrimage with Jesus.  Absalom, in contrast, did not strive to contain his ego.  No, he permitted it to control him.  We know little about the paralyzed man, but we may assume safely that a runaway ego was not among his problems.

If we are to walk humbly with God, we must contextualize ourselves relative to God.  We are, in comparison, but dust, and God is the proper grounding for human identity.  Proper actions will flow from appropriate attitudes.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 4, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PAUL CUFFEE, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY TO THE SHINNECOCK NATION

THE FEAST OF SAINT CASIMIR OF POLAND, PRINCE

THE FEAST OF EMANUEL CRONENWETT, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MARINUS OF CAESAREA, ROMAN SOLDIER AND CHRISTIAN MARTYR, AND ASTERIUS, ROMAN SENATOR AND CHRISTIAN MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-5-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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