Archive for the ‘Ecclesiasticus/Sirach’ Category

Conversations, Trees, and Fruits   1 comment

Above:  A Fire Extinguisher

Image Source = KRoock74

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FIRST READING:  OPTION #1

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 27:4-7 (New Revised Standard Version):

When a sieve is shaken, the refuse appears;

so do a person’s faults when he speaks.

The kiln tests the potter’s vessels;

so the test of a person is in his conversation.

Its fruit discloses the cultivation of a tree;

so a person’s speech discloses the cultivation of his mind.

Do not praise anyone before he speaks,

for this is the way people are tested.

FIRST READING:  OPTION #2

Isaiah 55:10-13 (New Revised Standard Version):

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

For you shall go out in joy,

and be led back in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you

shall burst into song,

and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;

instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;

and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial,

for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

RESPONSE

Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  It is a good thing to give thanks to the LORD,

and to sing praises to your Name, O Most High;

2  To tell of your loving-kindness early in the morning

and of your faithfulness in the night season;

3  On the psaltery, and on the lyre

and to the melody of the harp.

4  For you have made me glad by your acts, O LORD;

and I shout for joy because of the works of your hands.

11  The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,

and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon.

12  Those who are planted in the house of the LORD

shall flourish in the courts of our God.

13  They shall still bear fruit in old age;

they shall be green and succulent;

14  That they may show how upright the LORD is,

my Rock, in whom there is no fault.

SECOND READING

1 Corinthians 15:50-58 (New Revised Standard Version):

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this:  flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  Listen, I tell you a mystery!  We will not all die, but we will be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

Death, has been swallowed up in victory.

Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

GOSPEL READING

Luke 6:39-49 (The Jerusalem Bible):

He [Jesus] also told a parable to them,

Can one blind man guide another?  Surely both will fall into a pit?  The disciple is not superior to this teacher; the fully trained disciple will always be like his teacher.  Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the splinter that is in your eye,’ when you cannot see the plank in your own?  Hypocrite!  Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter that is in your brother’s eye.

There is no sound tree that produces rotten fruit, nor again a rotten tree that produces sound fruit.  For every tree can be told by its own fruit; people do not pick figs from thorns, nor gather grapes from brambles.  A good man draws what is good from the store of goodness in his heart; a bad man draws what is bad from the store of badness.  For a man’s words from what fills his heart.

Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and not do what I say?

Everyone who comes to me and listens to my words and acts on them–I will show you what he is like.  He is like the man who when he built his house dug, and dug deep, and laid the foundations on rock; when the river was in flood it bore down on that house  but could not shake it, it was so well built.  But the one who listens and does nothing is like the man who built his house on soil, with no foundations:  as soon as the river bore down on it, it collapsed; and what a ruin that house became!

The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-eighth-sunday-after-epiphany/

Prayer of Confession:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/prayer-of-confession-for-the-eighth-sunday-after-epiphany/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-eighth-sunday-after-epiphany/

Isaiah 55:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/25/proper-10-year-a/

Luke 6:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/week-of-proper-18-thursday-friday-and-saturday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/week-of-proper-18-friday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/week-of-proper-18-saturday-year-1/

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My grandfather Taylor, whom I do not remember (He died when I was three years old) said that it was better to be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.  That quote came to mind as I made connections among the readings.  Both “Luke” and Jesus ben Sira apply the metaphor of a tree and its fruits to one’s spiritual life.  And the latter writes of one’s conversations as evidence of

the cultivation of his mind

and as a test.  I thought of our Lord’s later comment that what goes into a person’s mouth does not defile him or her; what comes out of his or her mouth does that.  (Read Matthew 15:10 forward.)  To defile was literally

to make one common,

a meaning the late J. B. Phillips made clear in his translations of the New Testament.  Ritual purity set one apart from the great unwashed mass of people; it was about negative identity:

I am not like them.

I want to be careful here.  Christianity, in its pure form, is not overly individualistic; it is more concerned with the community and the individual in that context.  Yet Christianity, in its pure form, does encourage a vital interior life.  If that is not what it ought to be, one’s behavior (including conversation) will reveal this face.  The spiritual fig will not fall far from the tree.

The tongue, James 3:1-2 tells us, is powerful.  The text contains the metaphor of a large forest fire in reference to the negative effects of improper speech, likened also to poison.  Imagine, therefore, O reader, modern metaphors for proper speech and conversation:  a fire extinguisher, flame retardant, an antidote, et cetera.

Such as one thinks, so one is.  The content of one’s character can change, for many people have changed.  The theological term for that is repentance.  The victory is possible via God, in particular through Jesus.  Thus hope for such victory is not in vain; rather, it is well-placed.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 14, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT FULBERT OF CHARTRES, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EDWARD THOMAS DEMBY, EPISCOPAL SUFFRAGAN BISHOP OF ARKANSAS, AND HENRY BEARD DELANY, EPISCOPAL SUFFRAGAN BISHOP OF NORTH CAROLINA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINT WANDREGISILUS OF NORMANDY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT, AND SAINT LAMBERT OF LYONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/eighth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/

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Tested in the Fire   1 comment

Above:  Fire

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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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Revelation 3:1-6, 14-22 (Revised English Bible):

To the angel of the church at Sardis write:

These are the words of the One who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars:  I know what you are doing; people say you are alive, but in fact you are dead.  Wake up, and put some strength into what you still have, because otherwise it must die!  For I have not found any work of yours brought to completion in the sight of my God.  Remember therefore the teaching you received; observe it, and repent.  If you do not wake up, I will come upon you like a thief, and you will not know the moment of my coming.  Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not polluted their clothing, and they will walk with me in white, for so they deserve.  Anyone who is victorious will be robed in white like them, and I shall never strike his name off the roll of the living; in the presence of my Father and his angels I shall acknowledge him as mine.  You have ears, so hear what the Spirit says to the churches!

To the angel of the church at Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful of God’s creation:  I know what you are doing; you are neither cold nor hot.  How I wish you were either cold or hot!  Because you are neither one nor the other, but just lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth.  You say, “How rich I am!  What a fortune I have made!  I have everything I want.”  In fact, though you do not realize it, you are a pitiful wretch, poor, blind, and naked.  I advise you to buy from me gold refined in the fire to make you truly rich, and white robes to put on to hide the shame of your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so that you may see.  All whom I love I reprove and discipline.  Be wholehearted therefore in your repentance.  Here I stand knocking at the door; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and he and I will eat together.  To anyone who is victorious I will grant a place beside me on my throne, as I myself was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.  You have ears, so hear what the Spirit says to the churches!

Psalm 15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 LORD, who may dwell in your tabernacle?

who may abide upon your holy hill?

Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right,

who speaks the truth from his heart.

3 There is no guile upon his tongue;

he does no evil to his friend;

he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.

In his sight the wicked is rejected,

but he honors those who fear the LORD.

5 He has sworn to do no wrong

and does not take back his word.

6 He does not give his money in hope of gain,

nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things

shall never be overthrown.

Luke 19:1-10 (Revised English Bible):

Entering Jericho Jesus made his way through the city.  There was a man there named Zacchaeus; he was superintendent of taxes and very rich.  He was eager to see what Jesus looked like; but, being  a little man, he could not see him for the crowd.  So he ran on ahead and climbed a sycomore tree in order to see him, for he was to pass that way.  When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said,

Zacchaeus, be quick to come down, for I must stay at your house today.

He climbed down as quickly as he could and welcomed him gladly.  At this time there was a general murmur of disapproval.

He has gone in to be the guest of a sinner,

they said.  But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,

Here and now, sir, I give half my possessions to charity; and if I have defrauded anyone, I will repay him four times over.

Jesus said to him,

Today  salvation has come to this house–for this man too is a son of Abraham.  The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what is lost.

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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 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.

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Some Related Posts:

Week of Proper 28:  Tuesday, Year 1 (More About Zacchaeus):

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/week-of-proper-28-tuesday-year-1/

Lord, Help Us Walk Your Servant Way:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/07/01/lord-help-us-walk-your-servant-way/

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My Son, if you aspire to be a servant of the LORD,

prepare yourself for testing….

Bear every hardship that is sent you,

and whenever humiliation comes, be patient;

for gold is assayed in the fire,

and the chosen ones in the furnace of humiliation.

–Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 2:1, 4-5, Revised English Bible

The church at Laodicea  was lukewarm and overconfident in its wealth.  It was really nothing but a chapel of complacency.  But the church is not supposed to function as a chapel for the complacent.  At least the church at Sardis tried to so something.  Unfortunately, it did not finish anything.  Zacchaeus, in contrast, committed to a course of action, one which exceeded the minimum qualifications under the Law of Moses.

There is frequently a cross-fertilization between religion and culture.  Sometimes culture dilutes excellent religious principles.  Consider racism, for example.  One of the classics is H. Shelton Smith’s In His Image, But…, a book about racism in Southern U.S. religion.  That title summarizes the hypocrisy of racism in religion, does it not?  And Philip Yancey, in Soul Survivor:  How My Faith Survived the Church (2001), beginning on page, 11, writes about recovering from the racism he learned in church and culture in the Deep South of the 1950s and 1960s.  He writes:

As a child I did not question the system we lived under because no one around me questioned it.  (page 13)

Bigotry of any form has no legitimate place in Christianity.  It might be acceptable within one’s culture or subculture, but ought never find approval within the church.  When religion soaks up the worst of culture, religion has ceased to be salt in the world.

So, embracing love for our fellow human beings and devotion to Jesus, may we follow him.  We will stick out when we do this, and may we do so positively.  And may we complete what we have begun, regardless of the humiliation and other hardship we may face because of our actions for God.  Then we will be true to the crucified one.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 14, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE CONSECRATION OF SAMUEL SEABURY, FIRST EPISCOPAL BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY PALAMAS, ORTHODOX BISHOP OF THESSALONIKI

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/14/week-of-proper-28-tuesday-year-2/

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Do We Want to Hear What Divine Wisdom Teaches?   1 comment

Above:  Christ as Emperor, from Ravenna, Italy

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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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Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 51:13-22 (Revised English Bible):

When I was still young, before I set off on my travels,

in my prayers I asked openly for wisdom.

In the forecourt of the sanctuary I laid claim to her,

and I shall seek her to the end.

From the first blossom to the ripening of the grape

she has been the delight of my heart.

From my youth my steps have followed her without swerving.

I had hardly begun to listen when I was rewarded,

and I gained for myself much instruction.

I made progress in my studies;

all glory to God who gives me wisdom!

I determined to practice what I had learnt;

I pursued goodness, and shall never regret it.

With all my might I strove for wisdom

and was scrupulous in whatever I did.

I spread out my hands to Heaven above,

deploring my shortcomings;

I set my heart on possessing wisdom,

and my keeping myself pure I found her.

With her I gained understanding from the first;

therefore I shall never be at a loss.

Because I passionately yearned to discover her,

a noble possession was mine:

as a reward the Lord gave me eloquence,

and with it I shall praise him.

Psalm 19:7-14 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

The law of the LORD is perfect and revives the soul;

the testimony of the LORD is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.

8 The statutes of the LORD are just and rejoice the heart;

the commandment of the LORD is clear and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the LORD is clean and endures for ever,

the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold more than much fine gold,

sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.

11 By them also is your servant enlightened,

and in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can tell how often he offends?

cleanse me from my secret faults?

13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;

let them not get dominion over me;

then shall I be whole and sound,

and innocent of a great offense.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight,

O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.

Mark 11:27-33 (Revised English Bible):

They came once more to Jerusalem.  As he was walking in the temple court the chief priests, scribes, and elders came to him and said,

By what authority are you acting like this?  Who gave you authority to act in this way?

Jesus said to them,

I also have a question for you, and if you give me an answer, I will tell you by what authority I act.  The baptism of John:  was it from God, or from men?  Answer me.

This set them arguing among themselves:

What shall we say?  If we say, “From God,” he will say, “Then why did you not believe him?”  Shall we say, “From men?”

–but they were afraid of the people, for all held that John was in fact a prophet.  So they answered,

We do not know.

And Jesus said to them,

Then I will not tell you either by what authority I act.

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The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Experience confirms in my mind that using lectionaries is the best way to study the Bible.  Reading more than one section of scripture helps the process of finding links and common themes.  Sometimes one reads a group of lessons and finds no overall message, but, as in the case of these lections, a composite moral emerges.  Here it is:  Human traditions to not restrict the wisdom of God.  If we truly seek divine wisdom, we need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that God will tell us we are terribly mistaken.

Let us begin with Mark 11:27-33.

The Temple at Jerusalem was the headquarters of a religious system that exploited poor people by preying on their desires to be holy.  It was also the seat of collaboration with the Roman Empire.  This is a very important point to understand.  The setting of this lection is one of the days leading up to the annual celebration of the Passover, the celebration of God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.  They did this each year in occupied Jerusalem, and the nerve center of activity was the Temple.  There was no separation of Temple and state, so Jesus’ activities placed him at risk of what happened to him at the end of the week:  the crucifixion.  By standing against the Temple system and collaboration with Rome, our Lord and Savior put himself in the line of fire from the imperium.

For some reason (I do not know why.), I did not understand this point until my early adulthood.

Many professional religious people derived both livelihood and social status from this Temple system.  They perceived Jesus as a threat, which he was, and reacted defensively.  If they had sought wisdom, they would have been open to learning that they were mistaken.  If they had received wisdom, they would have recognized their secret faults.  But they did none of this.  Instead, they challenged Jesus and attempted to entrap him in his own words.

Jesus was smarter than they, however.  So, when they asked him by what he authority he acted, he demonstrated his authority by turning the tables on his questioners.  Instead of playing their game, he made them play his game.  He asked them an awkward question:  By whose authority did the late John the Baptist act?  Many people regarded the forerunner as a prophet (which he was), but these professional religious people disagreed.  Recognizing their difficult situation, which the text of Mark 11:27-33 describes well, they opted for a diplomatic, know-nothing reply.  And Jesus refused to answer their query verbally.

He had, however, answered them by the way he handled them.  Jesus was still a force with which to reckon.  Those with authority do not need to speak of it much, for it is obvious.  They carry themselves with authority, and that is enough.  So beware of those who speak incessantly about their power and authority; they are probably insecure in both.

Ben Sira wrote of his quest for wisdom.  He pursued wisdom, attempted to live what he had learned, and gave all glory to God.  He had no regrets.  Psalm 19 contains one of favorite lines of scripture:

The fear of the LORD is clean and endures for ever,
the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

Sometimes these judgments say that we are wrong, that we need to repent.  Many people misunderstand the meaning of “repent.”  It means far more than apologizing to someone (such as God) or lamenting one’s sins.  Actually, to repent is turn around, change one’s mind, and to be transformed.  Even the possibility of transformation can prove terrifying, but it is way to deeper spiritual life in God, or just to spiritual life in God.  So, when Gods says we are wrong, may we repent, not become defensive.

Now, for the rest of the story.  The Romans ended the Temple and the Temple system by force in 70 C.E., when they destroyed Jerusalem.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 7, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ELEANOR ROOSEVELT, UNITED STATES FIRST LADY

THE FEAST OF HERBERT F. BROKERING, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAT OF SAINT VINCENT LIEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIBRORD, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF UTRECHT

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/week-of-8-epiphany-saturday-year-1/

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Posted January 19, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Ecclesiasticus/Sirach, Mark 11, Psalm 19

Tagged with

The Creative Power of Words   1 comment

Above:  Jesus Healing the Blind Man (circa 1625-1650), by Eustache Le Sueur

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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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Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 42:15-25 (Revised English Bible):

How shall I call to mind the works of the Lord

and describe what I have seen,

his works which by his word were made.

As everything is illumined by the rays of the sun,

so the works of the Lord are full of his glory.

Even to the angels the Lord has not given the power

to tell the full tale of the marvels

accomplished by the Lord Almighty,

so that the universe may stand firm in his glory.

He fathoms both the abyss and the human heart,

he is versed in their intricacies;

for the Most High possesses all knowledge,

and the signs of the times are under his eye.

He discloses both past and future,

and lays bare the traces of secret things.

No thought escapes his notice,

and not a single word is hidden from him.

He has set in order the masterpieces of his wisdom,

he who is One from eternity to eternity;

nothing is added, nothing taken away,

and he needs none to give him counsel.

How pleasing is all that he has made,

even the smallest spark the eye can see!

His works endure, all of them active for ever

and all responsive to their several functions.

All things go in pairs, one counterpart of the other;

he has made nothing incomplete.

One thing supplements the virtues of another.

Of his glory who can ever see too much?

Psalm 33:1-9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous;

it is good for the just to sing praises.

2 Praise the LORD with the harp;

play to him upon the psaltery and lyre.

3 sing for him a new song;

sound a fanfare with all your skill upon the trumpet.

4 For the word of the LORD is right,

and all of his works are sure.

5 He loves righteousness and justice;

the loving-kindness of the LORD fills the whole earth.

By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,

by the breath of his mouth all the heavenly hosts.

7 He gathers up the waters of the ocean as in a water-skin

and stores up the depths of the sea.

8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;

let all who dwell in the world stand in awe of him.

9 For he spoke, and it came to pass;

he commanded, and it stood fast.

Mark 10:46-52 (Revised English Bible):

They came to Jericho; and as he was leaving the town, with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (that is, son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was seated at the roadside.  Hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout,

“Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me!”

Many of the people told him to hold his tongue; but he shouted all the more,

“Son of David, have pity on me.”

Jesus stopped and said,

Call him;

so they called the blind man:

Take heart,

they said.

Get up; he is calling you.

At that he threw off his cloak, jumped to his feet, and came to Jesus.  Jesus said to him,

What do you want me to do for you?

The blind man answered,

Rabbi, I want my sight back.

Jesus said to him,

Go; your faith as healed you.

At once he recovered his sight and followed him on the road.

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The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.

The old saying I have quoted above is a lie.  Many of us know this from experience, do we not?  My point is this:  words have the power to create a new reality.

According the Jewish mythology incorporated into the Christian Bible, God spoke the universe into existence.  And, as the psalmist and Ben Sira remind us, the created order spoken into existence is majestic, beautiful, and abounding in divine wisdom. I am sufficiently panentheistic (without falling into anti-scientific notions such as creationism) to perceive God in nature, from a sunset to cricket chirps.  Nature is especially beautiful when one regards it as an expression of the sacred.  One does not exploit what one regards as sacred, and environmental stewardship becomes a religious duty, not just a biological imperative.  No, one stands in awe in the presence of what one regards as sacred, and one seeks and finds the words of God there.   Maybe the crickets chirp them.  One does not know for sure until one listens closely enough for long enough.

Speaking of the presence of the sacred, we have the story of Jesus, en route to Jerusalem for Passover, healing blind Bartimaeus.  This is a good time to point out where we are in the Markan narrative.  The book has sixteen chapters; we are at the end of Chapter 10.  Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem for his last celebration of the Passover.  He will die very soon.  He is a man with quite a bit on his mind, but not too much to help this blind man others are trying to keep quiet.

Bartimaeus, the author of the Gospel of Mark tells us, was a blind beggar.  He had little, and his disability rendered him marginal in his society.  Ancient blindness had a variety of causes, ranging from being born that way to having a diet lacking sufficient vitamins to experiencing eye diseases to suffering the effects of bird droppings.  There was a common cultural belief in First Century C.E. Palestine that blindness and other physical ailments resulted from sin; this point arises more than once in the canonical gospels.  So here we have Bartimaeus, who cannot earn a living because he is blind, and whom others regard as unusually sinful.

He hears that Jesus is passing by.  So Bartimaeus seizes his opportunity and calls out to Jesus.  Our Lord and Savior hears these persistent pleas and answers them.  With words Bartimaeus helps create his new reality (one of sight), and with words Jesus completes the process.  And what does Bartimaeus do next?  He follows Jesus on the road to Jerusalem.

I think that the end of this story contains a deeper level of meaning.  Of course Bartimaeus follows Jesus for the remaining fifteen miles to Jerusalem for Passover.  But he follows Jesus in a non-literal way, too.  Bartimaeus follows Jesus for the rest of his life, however long or short that may be.  His ending might not be pleasant, assuming the full meaning of the metaphor.   Yet what time he has left is dedicated to following Jesus, and that is a high calling indeed.

And it began with a simple, persistent plea for mercy.  It started with words.

Ben Sira asks a profound question:

Of his glory who can ever see too much?

I suspect that, had someone asked Bartimaeus this question over a week after the healing, he would have said that nobody can ever see too much divine glory.  He saw more than he expected he would on that day when Jesus passed by, and everything he witnessed changed his life.

Words have the power to create.  What will the results of your words be?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 7, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ELEANOR ROOSEVELT, UNITED STATES FIRST LADY

THE FEAST OF HERBERT F. BROKERING, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT VINCENT LIEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIBRORD, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF UTRECHT

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/week-of-8-epiphany-thursday-year-1/

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Posted January 19, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Ecclesiasticus/Sirach, Mark 10, Psalm 33

Tagged with ,

Jesus, Who Contradicts Many of Our Assumptions   1 comment

Above:  Christ Carrying the Cross (1580), by El Greco

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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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Ecclesiasticus 36:1-2, 5-6, 13-17 (Revised English Bible):

Look on us with pity, Lord God of all,

and strike fear in every nation.

Let them learn, as we ourselves have learned,

that there is not god but you, O Lord.

Renew your signs, repeat your miracles,

with glory for your mighty hand and right arm.

Show mercy to the city of your sanctuary,

to the city of Jerusalem, your dwelling-place.

Fill Zion with the praise of your triumph

and the temple with your glory.

Acknowledge those you created at the beginning

and fulfill the prophecies spoken in your name.

Reward those who look to you in trust;

prove your prophets worthy of credence.

Listen, O Lord, to the prayer of your servants,

who claim Aaron’s blessing on your people.

Let all who live on earth acknowledge

that you are the Lord, the eternal God.

Psalm 79:8-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Remember not our past sins;

let your compassion be swift to meet us;

for we have been brought very low.

Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name;

deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name’s sake.

10 Why should the heathen say, “Where is their God?”

Let it be known among the heathen and in our sight

that you avenge the shedding of your servant’s blood.

11 Let the sorrowful sighing of the prisoners come before you,

and by your great might spare those who are condemned to die.

12 May the revilings with which they reviled you, O Lord,

return seven-fold into their bosoms.

13 For we are your people and the sheep of your pasture;

we will give you thanks for ever

and show forth your praise from age to age.

Mark 10:32-45 (Revised English Bible):

They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was leading the way; and the disciples were filled with awe, while those who followed behind were afraid.  Once again he took the Twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to him.

We are now going up to Jerusalem,

he said,

and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes; they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles.  He will be mocked and spat upon, and flogged and killed; and three days afterwards, he will rise again.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him and said,

Teacher, we should like you to do us a favour.”

He asked,

What is it you want me to do for you?

They answered,

Allow us to sit with you in your glory, one at your right hand and the other at your left.

Jesus said to them,

You do not understand what you are asking.  Can you drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?

They answered,

We can,

Jesus said,

The cup that I drink you shall drink, and the baptism that I am baptized with shall be your baptism; but to sit on my right or on my left is not for me to grant; that honour is for those to whom it has already been assigned.

When the other ten heard this, they were indignant with James and John.  Jesus called them to him and said,

You know that among the Gentiles the recognized rulers lord it over their subjects, and the great make their authority felt.  It shall not be so with you; among you whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.  For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

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The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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The readings from Sirach and Psalms come from circumstances of national distress.  Psalm 79 comes from the aftermath of the Chaldean (Babylonian) destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E.  Sirach comes from the time after the return from this exile.  The Jews were home, but they were still subject to foreign nations.  And the descendants many Gentiles who had settled in the Jewish homeland remained.  Gentiles lost their land claims.  Religious, ethnic, and cultural conflicts erupted, of course.  So it is not surprising that the full texts of Psalm 79 and Sirach 36 contain much anger toward foreigners.

These readings contain pleas for divine mercy during such difficult times.  It was certainly a feeling that many in First Century C.E. Palestine understood.  Here were Jews living in their homeland, but under Roman occupation and with many Gentiles settled among them.  National glory was something from a past nobody remembered firsthand.  And was not the Messiah supposed to expel all those foreigners?

Speaking of the Messiah, Jesus did not expel any foreigner.  No, he even found great faith among some of them.  Jesus is like that:  not what many people expect or want him to be.

When reading the Gospel of Mark, it is very important to pay close attention to how material is grouped.  For example, this day’s reading flows directly from recent readings about children, a camel passing through the eye of a needle,  and predictions of our Lord and Savior’s death and resurrection.  It seems that some Apostles have not been paying enough attention.  The author of Mark has James and John, sons of Zebedee, ask for glorious positions relative to Jesus.  Note, however, that, in the parallel reading in Matthew 20:20-28, their mother makes the request.  The two are versions of the same story, based on a close reading of them.  (Read them for yourself.)

The other Apostles are angry with James and John, probably because they were jockeying for position, too.  “How dare you two get there first?” the other seemed to ask.  At least that is my interpretation.

Anyhow, Jesus says that the first will be last, and the last will be first.  Anyone who wants to be the greatest must be the lowliest servant.  And, by the way, he will suffer, die and rise again.  I have read this before in Mark.  But here we have these statements repeated.  We humans do not always listen closely enough often enough, do we?  Sometimes “our tapes are running,” so we hear but do not listen.  Jesus says something plainly, but we do not understand, so he has not communicated with us.  The fault is with us, not Jesus.

I propose that the communication breaks down at our end because Jesus contradicts many of our assumptions.  He cannot mean what the words seem to indicate, can he?  Yes, he can.  How often do we need him to repeat himself?  How dense are we?

The Kingdom of God is an inverted order relative to the traditional social arrangements.  According to Matthew 5:3-11 and Luke 6:20-26, the physically hungry will be filled.  Those who are spiritually impoverished will have spiritual abundance.  Those who mourn and weep will laugh.  The meek will inherit the earth.  The merciful will not get run over and taken advantage of; they will receive mercy.  The peacemakers will not be marginalized in a militaristic and angry society; they will be called sons and daughters of God.  The persecuted will triumph in God.  Those reviled for the sake of righteousness will rejoice.  The rich have received their consolation, the well-fed will be hungry, and those laughing now will mourn and weep.  And being well-regarded in polite society does not indicate favor with God.

And, as we have read today, the first will be last, and the last will be first.  Anyone who wishes to be the greatest must be the servant of all.  I know that this is repetitive, but so was Jesus.  Some statements bear repeating.

So, after almost 2,000 years of repetition, why have we not understood yet?  Why are so many of us who claim to follow Jesus so dense?  We are invested in and acculturated to the dominant social arrangements.  It is not that the Kingdom of God is upside-down; we are.

Lord, have mercy.

We need to be right side-up.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 5, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN CHRISTIAN FREDERICK HEYER, BARTHOLOMEW ZIEGENBALG, AND LUDWIG NOMMENSEN, LUTHERAN PASTORS

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/week-of-8-epiphany-wednesday-year-1/

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Misguided Possessiveness and Factionalism are Unwise   1 comment

Above:  Wisdom, by Robert Lewis Reed (1896), at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

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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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Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 4:11-19 (Revised English Bible):

Wisdom raises her sons to greatness

and gives help to those who seek her.

To love her is to love life;

those who rise early to greet her will be filled with joy.

He who holds fast to her will gain honour;

the Lord’s blessing rests on the house she enters.

To serve her is to serve the Holy One,

and the Lord loves those who love her.

He who is obedient to her will give true judgement,

and, because he listens to her, his home will be secure.

If he trusts her, he will possess her

and bequeath her to his descendants.

At first she will lead him by torturous ways,

filling him with craven fears.

Her discipline will be a torment to him,

and her decrees a hard test,

until he trusts her with all his heart;

then she will come straight back to him,

bringing gladness and revealing to him her secrets.

But if he strays, she will abandon him

and leave him to his fate.

Psalm 119:161-168 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

161 Rulers have persecuted me without a cause,

but my heart stands in awe of your word.

162 I am as glad because of your promise

as one who finds great spoils.

163 As for lies, I hate and abhor them,

but your law is my love.

164 Seven times a day do I praise you,

because of your righteous judgments.

165 Great peace have they who love your law;

for them there is no stumbling block.

166 I have hoped for your salvation, O LORD,

and I have fulfilled your commandments.

167 I have kept your decrees

and I have loved them deeply.

168 I have kept your commandments and decrees,

for all my ways are before you.

Mark 9:38-41 (Revised English Bible):

John said to him,

Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and as he was not one of us, we tried to stop him.

Jesus said,

Do not stop him, for no one who performs a miracle in my name will be able the next moment to speak evil of me.  He is not against us is on our side.  Truly I tell you:  whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you are followers of the Messiah will certainly not go unrewarded.

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The Collect:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this wicked and godless age, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

–Jesus in Mark 8:38 (Revised English Bible)

and this:

I now understand how true it is that God has no favourites, but that in every nation those who are god-fearing and do what is right are acceptable to him.

–Simon Peter in Acts 10:34-35 (Revised English Bible)

God works through and speaks to and through a wide variety of people.  Many of them are unlike you, O reader, or me.  Yet they are of God, too.  So, how will we respond to them.  I know how we should respond; we should welcome them and give thanks for them.  We might even be able to collaborate with some of them now and again.  But will we exhibit a positive response or attempt to shut them down, as the Apostles did?

Ben Sira explains that divine wisdom, personified as female, is both comforting and challenging, delightful and capable of tough love.  (The psalmist agrees.)  This writing comes from a place of lived and mature spirituality; it recognizes that discipline is part of God’s love for us.  If we persist faithfully, however, we will learn the lessons God has in mind for us.

The Apostles needed to learn such lessons.  They reported discouraging a successful exorcist who was not of their religious opinion in Mark 9:38.  Yet, in Mark 9:18, they failed in their attempts at exorcism.  Were they protecting their turf and criticizing unjustly one who could do what they could not?  This other fellow’s success did not trouble Jesus, though

He who is not against us is on our side.

Our Lord and Savior did not pay undue attention to divisive labels and artificial categories.  Neither should we.

Human thoughts do not limit divine wisdom.  This is a challenging realization, one that acting upon can lead to scorn, if not persecution.  But, as Jesus said,

Blessed are you when people hate you and ostracize you, when they insult you and slander your very name, because of the Son of Man.  On that day exult and dance for joy, for you have a rich reward in heaven; that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

–Luke 6:22-23 (Revised English Bible)

So be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 2, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL SOULS

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/week-of-7-epiphany-wednesday-year-1/

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Righteousness and Suffering   1 comment

Above:  Orthodox Icon of Jesus at Golgotha, by Theophanes the Cretan (1500s)

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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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Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 2:1-11 (Revised English Bible):

My son, if you aspire to be a servant of the Lord,

prepare yourself for testing.

Set a straight course and keep to it,

and do not be dismayed in the face of adversity.

Hold fast to him and never let go,

if you would end your days in prosperity.

Bear every hardship that is sent you,

and whenever humiliation comes, be patient;

for gold is assayed in the fire,

and the chosen ones in the furnace of humiliation.

Trust him and he will help you;

steer a straight course and fix your hope on him.

You that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy;

do not stray, for fear you will fall.

You that fear the Lord, trust in him,

and you will not be baulked of your reward.

You that fear the Lord, hope for prosperity

and lasting joy and favour.

Consider the past generations and see:

was anyone who trusted the Lord ever disappointed?

Was anyone who stood firm in the fear of him ever abandoned?

Did he ever ignore anyone who called to him?

For the Lord is compassionate and merciful;

he forgives sin and saves in time of trouble.

Psalm 112 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hallelujah!

Happy are they who fear the Lord

and have great delight in his commandments!

2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3 Wealth and riches will be in their house,

and their righteousness will last for ever.

4 Light shines in the darkness for the upright;

the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

It is good for them to be generous in lending

and to manage their affairs with justice.

6 For they will never be shaken;

the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.

7 They will not be afraid of any evil rumors;

their heart is right;

they put their trust in the Lord.

8 Their heart is established and will not shrink,

until they see that desire upon their enemies.

9 They have given freely to the poor,

and their righteousness stands fast for ever;

they will hold up their head with honor.

10 The wicked will see it and be angry;

they will gnash their teeth and pine away;

the desires of the wicked will perish.

Mark 9:30-37 (Revised English Bible):

They left that district and made their way through Galilee.  Jesus did not want anyone to know, because he was teaching his disciples, and telling them,

The Son of Man is now to be handed over into the power of men, and they will kill him; and three days after being killed he will rise again.

But they did not understand what he said, and were afraid to ask.

So they came to Capernaum; and when he had gone indoors, he asked them,

What were you arguing about on the way?

They were silent, because on the way they had been discussing which one of them was the greatest.  So he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,

If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself the last of all and servant of all.

Then he took a child, set him in front of them, and put his arm round him.

Whoever receives a child like this in my name,

he said,

receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.

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The Collect:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Consider the Lukan version of the Beatitudes, from the Sermon on the Plain:

Blessed are you who are in need;

the kingdom of God is yours.

Blessed are you who now go hungry;

you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now;

you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you and ostracize you, when they insult you and slander your very name, because of the Son of Man.  On that day exult and dance for joy, for you have a rich reward in heaven; that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

But alas for you who are rich;

you have had your time of happiness.

Alas for you who are well fed now;

you will go hungry.

Alas for you who laugh now;

you will mourn and weep.

Alas for you when all speak well of you;

that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

–Jesus in Luke 6:20-26 (Revised English Bible)

Then reread Sirach 2:1-11 and Psalm 112.  They are quite different, are they not?

Prosperity Theology is a heresy.  Love God and get rich and be healthy, is says.  This a simplified version of that line of thought, but Prosperity Theology is an oversimplification itself.  Part of good Biblical interpretation is balance.  For example, we are sinful (That is in the Bible.), but we also bear the image of God (That, too, is in the Bible.).  So it is heretical to state we are either equivalent to pond scum (to the exclusion of the image of God) or that we are “a little lower than the angels” (to the exclusion of our sinfulness).  One needs to weigh Biblical subtleties intelligently.

As a student of history, I know of the Northern Renaissance, an offshoot of the Italian Renaissance.  I consider myself a partial product of the Northern Renaissance, which favored following the example of Jesus more than ecclesiastical doctrines and dogmas.  So, with that mind, let us consider the example of Jesus in today’s reading from Mark.  He foretells his arrest, torture, execution and resurrection.  He uses plain language to do this.  The Apostles do not understand, but they are afraid to ask for an explanation. They have, however, been debating among themselves which is the greatest.  The greatest, Jesus says, is the lowliest in society–the servant and the child, in particular.

Which examples might Jesus use if he were giving this teaching today?  I suspect he would speak of immigrants, foster children, minimum-wage employees, and other vulnerable, powerless people.  This is my list, for I am North American.  If Jesus were delivering this teaching in India, he might say that anyone who welcomes a Dalit receives God.

It is vital to inject the reading from Mark with contemporary analogies.  Otherwise, we might not face the raw power of the teaching of Jesus, surely the most righteous man who ever lived.  And what happened to him?  We know the answer to that question, do we not?  If Jesus had lived in more modern times, we might not have crosses in churches; we might have replicas of an electric chair, a gas chamber, or a noose in churches.  Clarence Jordan translated the story of Jesus into the Southern U.S. idiom in his Cotton Patch versions of the Gospels.  Jordan’s Jesus died during a lynching.

Yet it is also true that, as Ben Sira tells us, gold is tested in the fire, and the righteous ones of God in the furnace of humiliation.  I am fortunate that I live in a nation and a society in which I can worship freely.  My society is not perfect, as outbreaks of blind, irrational, and hateful Islamophobia, especially in Republican Party politics demonstrate.  (I write on the eve of the 2010 U.S. midterm elections.)  But we, as a society, are more tolerant than are many others.  If I were Christian in southern Sudan or anywhere in Iran, for example, I would certainly be at great risk of religious persecution.  For such Christians the reading I quoted from Luke is a potent reality.  Yet discipleship, even for a persecution-free Christian such as myself, must entail sacrifice.  And I must not mistake popularity with divine approval.

These are difficult readings from the Gospels.  Jesus challenges us to follow his example, wherever that takes us and regardless of the cost to ourselves.  But this is the path to holiness.  I have noticed many Lutheran churches named “Cross and Crown” or “Cross of Life.”  Such labels are spiritually correct.  I invite you, O reader, to ponder them and what you might have to sacrifice for the sake of righteousness.

And may the love of God flow through you and to all your fellow human beings, for everyone is a child of God.  Some are more rebellious than others, to be sure, but all stand in the need of grace and bear the image of God.  May love, not intolerance, characterize those of us who claim the label “Christian.”  The way of cross is not the path of hatred and other forms of intolerance.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 1, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/week-of-7-epiphany-tuesday-year-1/

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