Archive for the ‘Nehemiah’ Category

The Sin of Favoritism   1 comment

ezra-reads-the-law-to-the-people

Above:  Ezra Reads the Law to the People, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 10:12-22 or Nehemiah 9:1-38

Psalm 6

John 7:1-13

Galatians 2:1-14 (15-21) or Galatians 1:1-24 or James 1:1-16 (17-27) or James 1:17-2:10 (2:11-13)

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The life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was under threat in John 7.  He was, according to certain critics, a blasphemer.  Those critics knew Leviticus 24:10-23 well; the punishment for blasphemy is death (by stoning).  Saul of Tarsus, the future St. Paul the Apostle, thought that he was acting righteously when he stood by during the death of at least one Christian.  Then he learned that he was wrong, that God showed no partiality or favoritism among the faithful, whether Jew or Gentile.

That caution against spiritual arrogance–sometimes expressed violently–is evident also in James 1 and 2.  There we read that we have divine instructions to be impartial.  To treat a prominent or wealthy person better than a poor person is impious, we read.  The text also reminds us of the obligation to treat the poor and the vulnerable justly and with respect, thereby echoing Deuteronomy 10.  Society and social institutions do, as a rule, favor the well-off and penalize the poor, do they not?  This is societal sin.

Societal remorse for and repentance of this point and others would be nice.  The scene in Nehemiah 9 follows the reading of the Law of Moses to Jews in Jerusalem after the end of the Babylonian Exile.  Many people, upon hearing what they should have been doing, felt guilty and wept.  Their leaders told them to rejoice in God (Nehemiah 8:9-12).  Then the people fasted and confessed their sins.  Next, in Chapter 10, they repented–turned their backs on their sins.

I want my society to express remorse for exploiting all vulnerable people, sometimes violently..  I want my society not to weep but to act to correct its foolish ways that harm the poor and all other vulnerable people.  I want other societies to do the same.  I want us to succeed in this great work, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 9, 2016 COMMON ERA

PROPER 21:  THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINT DENIS, BISHOP OF PARIS, AND HIS COMPANIONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT LUIS BERTRAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIEST

THE FEAST OF ROBERT GROSSETESTE, SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF WILHELM WEXELS, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR; HIS NIECE, MARIE WEXELSEN, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER; LUDWIG LINDEMAN, NORWEGIAN ORGANIST AND MUSICOLOGIST; AND MAGNUS LANDSTAD, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, FOLKLORIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNAL EDITOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/09/devotion-for-the-first-sunday-in-lent-year-d/

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Good Society, Part II   1 comment

Lot and His Daughters

Above:   Lot and His Daughters, by Lucas van Leyden

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Merciful God, gracious and benevolent,

through your Son you invite all the world to a meal of mercy.

Grant that we may eagerly follow this call,

and bring us with all your saints into your life of justice and joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Nehemiah 13:1-3, 23-31 (Monday)

Zechariah 7:1-14 (Tuesday)

Psalm 50 (Both Days)

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (Monday)

Jude 5-21 (Tuesday)

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“When you see a thief, you make him your friend,

and you cast your lot in with adulterers.

You have loosed your lips for evil,

and harnessed your tongue to a lie.

You are always speaking evil of your brother

and slandering your own mother’s son.

These things you have done, and I kept still,

and you thought that I am like you.”

–Psalm 50:18-21, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The Law of Moses teaches that, among other things:

  1. We humans depend on God for everything,
  2. We depend on each other also,
  3. We have no right to exploit each other,
  4. We are responsible to each other, and
  5. We are responsible for each other.

Thus hospitality is a great virtue, for it can make the difference between someone coming to harm or avoiding harm, as well as the difference between someone dying or living.

My summary of the forbidden behaviors in these days’ readings is that they are generally activities that harm others.  I note that, in post-exilic zeal to obey the Law of Moses, many people went too far with regard to the treatment of foreigners.  The Book of Jonah pushes back against such excesses.  The Book of Ruth, in which a Moabite woman marries a Hebrew man and becomes an ancestor of King David, is probably another protest against such zealousness-turned-xenophobia, such as that praised in Nehemiah 13:1.

As for homosexual behavior (as opposed to homosexuality as a sexual preference, an understanding which did not exist until recent centuries), Jude 7 is the only verse in the Bible to make explicit the link between homosexual conduct and the story of Sodom in Genesis 19.  In that chapter Lot, who has lived in the city since Genesis 13, presumably knows his neighbors well enough to understand what they like.  Lot has taken in two angels.  A mob gathers outside his door and demands that he send them outside to that they can gang rape the angels.  Lot refuses the demands and offers to send his two virgin daughters out instead.  (Bad father!)  Fortunately for Lot’s daughters, the mob is not interested and the angels have a plan to save Lot and his family from the imminent destruction of the city.  In the context of Genesis 19 the planned sexual activity is rape, not anything consensual; may nobody miss that point.  The standard Biblical condemnations of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah are like those in Ezekiel 16:48-50 and 3 Maccabees 2:5-6, where one reads that the cities’ sins were notorious and the people were arrogant and brazen in their iniquity.  Ezekiel 16 adds to that description the neglect of the poor and the hungry–a lack of hospitality.

Zechariah 7:8-14 states that the pre-exilic Kingdoms of Israel and Judah violated the basic requirements of the Law of Moses, and paid the price.  The societies, generally speaking, did not administer true justice and act kindly and compassionately.  No, it oppressed widows, orphans, the poor, and resident aliens.  The societies were unrepentant, and divine patience ran out.

Society is people.  It shapes its members, who also influence it.  May we–you, O reader, and I–influence society for the better–to care for the vulnerable, to resist bullying and corruption, to favor kindness and compassion, and to seek and find the proper balance between individual and collective responsibility.  May we eschew bigotry in all forms, for we have a divine mandate to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  May we seek to love God and each other fully, manifesting respect for the image of God in each other, seeking to build each other up, for that is not only the path to the common good but is also godly.

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-and-tuesday-after-proper-26-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Sabbath   1 comment

Church of the Resurrection February 8, 2015

Above:  Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, Sautee, Georgia, February 8, 2015

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

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The Collect:

O God, mighty and immortal, you know that as fragile creatures

surrounded by great dangers, we cannot by ourselves stand upright.

Give us strength of mind and body, so that even when we suffer

because of human sin, we may rise victorious through

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 15:32-41 (Thursday)

2 Chronicles 8:12-15 (Friday)

Nehemiah 13:15-22 (Saturday)

Psalm 103:1-8 (All Days)

Hebrews 12:13-17 (Thursday)

Acts 17:1-9 (Friday)

Luke 6:1-5 (Saturday)

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Bless Yahweh, my soul,

from the depths of my being, his holy name;

bless Yahweh, my soul,

never forget all his acts of kindness.

–Psalm 103:1-2, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Keeping divine commandments is one way of manifesting love for God.  Observing the Sabbath is the dominant issue in these days’ readings, so I focus on it.

Sabbath is an indication of freedom.  When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they had no days off.  Since they were free, however, they had a day off each week.  Violating it carried a death sentence, though.  (That was unduly harsh!)  The reality of the death penalty for that infraction indicated the importance of keeping Sabbath in that culture, which understood that individual violations led to communal punishment.

Our Lord and Savior’s Apostles plucked grain with their hands one Sabbath.  This was permissible in Deuteronomy 23:25 yet not in Exodus 34:21.  Jesus preferred to cite the former, but his accusers favored the latter.  He also understood the precedent David set in 1 Samuel 21:1-6, in which, in an emergency, he and his soldiers consumed holy bread.  Jesus grasped a basic reality–people need the Sabbath, but there should be flexibility regarding the rules of the day.  In this respect he fit in nicely with his Jewish culture, with its various understandings of Sabbath laws.

Life brings too many hardships to endure (often for the sake of righteousness).  Fewer of them would exist if more people would be content to mind their own business.  Why, then, do so many observant people add to this by turning a day of freedom into one of misery?  I suppose that legalism brings joy to certain individuals.

May we keep the Sabbath as a day of rest, relaxation, and freedom, not legalism and misery.  If we must work on our usual Sabbath, may we keep Sabbath another day.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 24, 2016 COMMON ERA

MAUNDY THURSDAY

THE FEAST OF THOMAS ATTWOOD, “FATHER OF MODERN CHURCH MUSIC”

THE FEAST OF SAINT DIDACUS JOSEPH OF CADIZ, CAPUCHIN FRIAR

THE FEAST OF OSCAR ROMERO, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF SAN SALVADOR, AND THE MARTYRS OF EL SALVADOR

THE FEAST OF PAUL COUTURIER, ECUMENIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/24/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-16-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Economics, Politics, and the Demands of Piety   1 comment

Icon of Nehemiah

Above:  Icon of Nehemiah

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord God, you have caused the holy scriptures

to be written for the nourishment of your people.

Grant that we may hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that, comforted by your promises,

we may embrace and forever hold fast to the hope of eternal life,

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 23

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The Assigned Readings:

Nehemiah 5:1-13

Psalm 19

Luke 2:39-52

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The law of the LORD inspires reverence and is pure;

it stands firm, for ever,

the judgments of the LORD are true;

they form a good code of justice.

–Psalm 19:10, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989), by Harry Mowvley

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The economic crisis in Judea was one which entailed some Jews exploiting other Jews–poor returnees, to be precise–in violation of Exodus 22:24-26.  Seizing property put us collateral for a loan to a poor person violated the letter of the Law of Moses and contradicted the underlying ethos of mutuality.  Both civic and religious leaders were guilty, but at least Nehemiah used his gubernatorial power to correct the injustice.  He possessed much wisdom and righteousness.

Jesus, a figure far greater than Nehemiah, also possessed much wisdom and righteousness–more than Nehemiah.  Our Lord and Savior–a sage yet more than just that–taught in a particular geographical and historical context, one in which the realities of the Roman occupation frustrated the already-harsh realities of peasants’ lives.  Much of Christian tradition has ignored or minimized the economic-political background of Christ’s sayings, unfortunately.  Perhaps doing otherwise would have led to unpleasant and inconvenient political situations for ecclesiastical organizations and leaders loyal to governments and potentates, or at least dependent upon them.  More figures such as Nehemiah among civic leaders as well as among ecclesiastical shepherds would have helped many people.  The same thought applies well to current times.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 3, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE EVE OF THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI:  PROPER FOR THE GOODNESS OF CREATION

THE FEAST OF THEODOR FLIEDNER, PIONEER OF THE DEACONESS MOVEMENT IN THE LUTHERAN CHURCH

THE FEAST OF GEORGE KENNEDY ALLEN BELL, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF CHICHESTER

THE FEAST OF JOHN RALEIGH MOTT, ECUMENICAL PIONEER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/devotion-for-saturday-before-the-third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Leaving the World Better Than We Found It   1 comment

The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD -- a painting by David Roberts (1796-1849).

The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD —
a painting by David Roberts (1796-1849).

Above: The Destruction of Jerusalem, by David Roberts

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.

By your merciful protection alert us to the threatening dangers of our sins,

and redeem us for your life of justice,

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 18

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The Assigned Readings:

Nehemiah 9:6-15 (Thursday)

Nehemiah 9:16-25 (Friday)

Nehemiah 9:26-31 (Saturday)

Psalm 76 (All Days)

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (Thursday)

1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 (Friday)

Luke 21:20-24 (Saturday)

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For all those who hope in you shall not be ashamed:

but only those who wantonly break faith.

–Psalm 25:2, A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)

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One message from the Hebrew Bible is that God liberated the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and gave them orders to live in a just society.  Yet, as prophets attested, rebellion against God became the norm, not the exception to the rule.  Consequences ensued and God showed both judgment and mercy to the Hebrews.

The Jews of Nehemiah 9 were returned exiles living in a province (a satrapy, technically) of the Persian Empire.  They were home, but circumstances did not live up to high expectations and they lived in a foreign empire.  Living under occupation remained the reality of Jews in Judea for most of the time during the following centuries.  In the time of Jesus of Nazareth the occupying power was the Roman Empire, against whom many Jews fought a war from 66 to 73 C.E.  The writing of the four canonical Gospels occurred in the context of the First Jewish War, shaping the telling of stories of Jesus.  Certainly that context influenced the understanding of Luke 21:20-24.  Jesus might have said something similar to those words, but the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. by Roman forces made that text poignant after the fact.

In 1 Thessalonians, which St. Paul the Apostle probably dictated circa 50 C.E., about four decades prior to the composition of the Gospel of Luke, apocalyptic expectations were alive and well.  Some members of that community either used the hope that Jesus would return quite soon as a reason or an excuse to refrain from good works and necessary, even mundane tasks.  The Apostle’s sage advice was to keep working.  That remains wise counsel, for Jesus has yet to return as of the writing of this sentence, and the necessities of life continue to exist.  Waiting for God to act is a poor excuse not to work for justice and to attempt to leave one’s corner of the world better than one found it.  The world might not resemble the best hopes for it, but that fact is a reason to continue working, not to become lazy or to give into apathy or hopelessness.  God will save the world, but we have a moral imperative to leave it better than we found it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GEORG NEUMARK, GERMAN LUTHERAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN HINES, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-the-first-sunday-of-advent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Living in Community, Part II   1 comment

The Flight with the Torah

Above:  The Flight with the Torah (1986), by Willy Gordon, outside the Great Synagogue, Stockholm, Sweden

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Holy God, your word feeds your people with life that is eternal.

Direct our choices and preserve us in your truth,

that, renouncing what is evil and false, we may live in you,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 45

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The Assigned Readings:

Nehemiah 9:1-15 (Monday)

Nehemiah 9:16-31 (Tuesday)

Psalm 119:97-104 (Both Days)

Ephesians 5:21-6:9 (Monday)

Ephesians 6:21-24 (Tuesday)

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How I love your law!

All day long I pore over it.

Psalm 119:97, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)

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One reason for the public confession of sin in Nehemiah 9 was that, for a long time, the majority of the Hebrew people had not loved and pored over God’s law.  One principle (with culturally specific examples) of the Law of Moses was that the people had no right to exploit each other.  They were responsible to and for each other, dependent upon each other, and completely dependent upon God.  The testimony of Hebrew prophets confirmed that exploitation and other violations of the Law of Moses occurred frequently.

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

–Ephesians 5:21, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

It is a glorious passage, one which sets the context for 5:22-6:9.  Unfortunately, the author of the Letter to the Ephesians (as did the Law of Moses) accepted patriarchy and slavery.  Over time many people have cited the Law of Moses and parts of Ephesians 5:21-6:9, often quoting them selectively in the service of prooftexting, to justify the morally indefensible.  To be fair, nothing in Ephesians 5:21-6:9 gives anyone carte blanche to abuse anyone.  The opposite is true, actually.  Yet the acceptance of slavery and sexism, although not unexpected, due to the cultural settings from which these writings emerged, contradicts the Golden Rule.

A community will be a peace when its members respect the dignity of each other, acknowledge how much they depend upon each other, and act accordingly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL STENNETT, ENGLISH SEVENTH-DAY BAPTIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN HOWARD, ENGLISH HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN MARTYR, APOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PAMPHILUS OF CAESAREA, BIBLE SCHOLAR AND TRANSLATOR; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIMEON OF SYRACUSE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-proper-16-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Nehemiah and 1 Timothy, Part IV: Performing Good Deeds at Every Opportunity   1 comment

esdras-ezra

Above:  Ezra

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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:

Nehemiah 7:1-4 (September 22)

Nehemiah 8:1-18 (September 22)

Nehemiah 9:1-21 (September 23)

Nehemiah 9:22-38 (September 24–Protestant Versification)

Nehemiah 9:22-10:1 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Versification)

Psalm 67 (Morning–September 22)

Psalm 51 (Morning–September 23)

Psalm 54 (Morning–September 24)

Psalms 46 and 93 (Evening–September 22)

Psalms 85 and 47 (Evening–September 23)

Psalms 28 and 99 (Evening–September 24)

1 Timothy 5:1-16 (September 22)

1 Timothy 5:17-6:2 (September 23)

1 Timothy 6:3-21 (September 24)

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Some Related Posts:

Nehemiah 8:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/week-of-proper-21-thursday-year-1/

1 Timothy 5-6:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/week-of-proper-19-friday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/week-of-proper-19-saturday-year-1/

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The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

–Psalm 51:18, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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These days’ readings speak of lamenting sins and of vowing to reform errant ways.  They also offer culturally specific advice as to how to do the latter.  I, as a Christian, do not follow the Law of Moses, for Jesus has fulfilled the Law.  And I read 1 Timothy 5-6, my jaw dropping because of the sexism and the failure to condemn slavery.  I, when pondering Old and New Testament moral advice, find the following statements helpful:

Identifying general principles is important because the real purpose of the Law is to inculcate general principles and values and to apply them in specific instances.  This is done by stating general principles and by illustrating, with specific examples, how general principles can be applied in specific cases.

–Richard Bauckham, The Bible in Politics:  How to Read the Bible Politically, 2d. Ed. (Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011, pages 24-25)

The best moral advice I have located in these days’ readings is to preform good deeds

at every opportunity.

–1 Timothy 5:10d, The Revised English Bible

What that looks like depends on the opportunities.  May we focus on that principle and not become bogged down in legalistic details.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 17, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF DANIEL SYLVESTER TUTTLE, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY EUPHRASIA PELLETIER, FOUNDER OF THE CONTEMPLATIVES OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD

THE FEAST OF PARDITA MARY RAMABAI, SOCIAL REFORMER IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROBERT OF CHAISE DIEU, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/devotion-for-september-22-23-and-24-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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