Archive for the ‘Episcopal Church’ Category

Stoicism and Platonism in Fourth Maccabees   Leave a comment

Above:  Zeno of Citium

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART IV

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4 Maccabees 1:1-3:18; 13:1-14:10; 18:20-24

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The Fourth Book of the Maccabees, composed in 20-54 C.E., perhaps in Antioch, is a treatise.  It interprets Judaism in terms of Greek philosophy–Stoicism and Platonism, to be precise.  4 Maccabees elaborates on the story of the martyrdom of the seven brothers and their mother, covered relatively succinctly in 2 Maccabees 7:1-42, and set prior to the Hasmonean Rebellion.

Fourth Maccabees, composed by an anonymous Hellenistic Jew and addressed to other Hellenistic Jews, has two purposes:

  1. To exhort them to obey the Law of Moses (18:1), and
  2. To proclaim that devout reason is the master of all emotions (1:1-2; 18:2).

Cultural assimilation was a common temptation for Hellenistic Jews.  “Keep the faith,” the author urged more verbosely than my paraphrase.  For him, devout reason was a reason informed by the Law of Moses.  Devout reason, in the author’s mind, the highest form of reason was the sole province of faithful Jews.

Vicarious suffering is also a theme in 4 Maccabees.  In this book, the suffering and death of the martyrs purifies the land (1:11; 6:29; 17:21), vindicates the Jewish nation (17:10), and atones for the sins of the people (6:29; 17:22).  The last point presages Penal Substitutionary Atonement, one of several Christian theologies of the atonement via Jesus.

The blending of Jewish religion and Greek philosophy is evident also in the treatment of the afterlife.  The Second Book of the Maccabees teaches bodily resurrection (7:9, 11, 14, 23, and 29).  One can find bodily resurrection elsewhere in Jewish writings (Daniel 12:2; 1 Enoch 5:1-2; 4 Ezra/2 Esdras 7:42; 2 Baruch 50:2-3).  The Fourth Book of the Maccabees, however, similar to the Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-4, teaches instant immortality, with reward or punishment.  The martyrs achieve instant instant immortality with reward (4 Maccabees 9:9, 22; 10:15; 14:15; 15:7; 16:13, 25; 17:12, 18; 18:23).  Antiochus IV Epiphanes, however, goes to everlasting torment (9:9, 29, 32; 10:11, 15; 11:3, 23; 12:18; 18:5).

Stoicism, in the Greek philosophical sense, has a different meaning than the average layperson may assume.  It is not holding one’s feelings inside oneself.  Properly, Stoicism teaches that virtue is the only god and vice is the only evil.  The wise are indifferent to pain and pleasure, to wealth and poverty, and to success and misfortune.  A Stoic, accepting that he or she could change x, y, and z, yet not t, u, and v.  No, a Stoic works to change x, y, and z.  A Stoic, therefore, is content in the midst of difficulty.  If this sounds familiar, O reader, you may be thinking of St. Paul the Apostle being content in pleasant and in unpleasant circumstances (Philippians 4:11-12).

Stoicism shows up elsewhere in the New Testament and in early Christianity, too.  It is in the mouth of St. Paul in Athens (Acts 17:28).  Stoicism is also evident in the writings of St. Ambrose of Milan (337-397), mentor of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430).  Why would it not be in the writings of St. Ambrose?  Greek philosophy informed the development of early Christian theology.  Greek philosophy continues to exist in sermons, Sunday School lessons, and Biblical commentaries.  Greek philosophy permeates the Gospel of John and the Letter to the Hebrews.  Greek philosophy is part of the Christian patrimony.

Platonism was the favorite form of Greek philosophy in the Roman Catholic Church for centuries.  Platonism permeated the works of St. Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-circa 210/215) and his star pupil, Origen (185-254), for example.  Eventually, though, St. Albert the Great (circa 1200-1280) and his star pupil, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), successfully made the case for Aristotle over Plato.  Holy Mother Church changed her mind after the deaths of Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. The Church, having embraced Aristotle over Plato, eventually rescinded the pre-Congregation canonization of St. Clement of Alexandria.  And the Church has never canonized Origen.  I have, however, read news stories of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland trying to convince The Episcopal Church to add Origen to the calendar of saints.  (The Episcopal Church already recognizes St. Clement of Alexandria as a saint.)

Platonism and Stoicism have four cardinal virtues–rational judgment, self-control, justice, and courage.  These appear in 4 Maccabees 1:2-4.  As I read these verses, I recognize merit in them.  Some emotions do hinder self-control.  Other emotions to work for injustice and obstruct courage.  News reports provide daily documentation of this.  Other emotions further the causes of justice and courage.  News reports also provide daily documentation of this.

I also affirm that reason should govern emotions.  I cite news stories about irrationality.  Emotions need borders, and must submit to objectivity and reason, for the best results.

4 Maccabees takes the reader on a grand tour of the Hebrew Bible to support this conclusion.  One reads, for example, of Joseph (Genesis 39:7-12; 4 Maccabees 2:1-6), Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:7; 4 Maccabees 2:19-20), Moses (Numbers 16:1-35; Sirach 45:18; 4 Maccabees 2:17), David (2 Samuel 23:13-17; 1 Chronicles 11:15-19; 4 Maccabees 3:6-18).

Reason can effect self-control, which works for higher purposes.  One of these higher purposes is

the affection of brotherhood.

–4 Maccabees 13:19, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

In the case of the seven martyred brothers, as the author of 4 Maccabees told their story, these holy martyrs used rational judgment and self-control to remain firm in their faith.  Those brothers did not

fear him who thinks he is killing us….

–4 Maccabees 13:14, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

That is the same courage and conviction present in Christian martyrs, from antiquity to the present day.

One may think of another passage:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

–Matthew 10:28, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

Not surprisingly, many persecuted Christians derived much comfort and encouragement from 4 Maccabees.  These Christians had to rely on each other, just as the seven brothers did in 4 Maccabees.

Mutuality is a virtue in the Law of Moses and in Christianity.

I have spent the first four posts in this series laying the groundwork for the First, Second, and Fourth Books of Maccabees.  I have provided introductory material for these books.

Next, I will start the narrative countdown to the Hasmonean Rebellion.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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From Alexander the Great to Antiochus IV Epiphanes   Leave a comment

Above:  Map Showing Asia Minor, the Seleucid Empire, and the Ptolemaic Empire, 188 B.C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART I

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1 Maccabees 1:1-19

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Reading the Bible in more than one translation is a positive spiritual and literary practice.  One may decide that a particular translation is best for reading a certain book or certain books of the Bible.  For example, I propose that Job reads best in The Jerusalem Bible (1966), that the Song of Songs reads best in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985), and that First Maccabees reads best in The Revised English Bible (1989).

I am an Episcopalian with strong Roman Catholic and Lutheran tendencies.  I am an also an Episcopalian who grew up a Low Church Protestant and a preacher’s kid–Southern Baptist for my first seven years, followed by United Methodist for the next eleven years.   I tell you, O reader, this so that you will appreciate the significance of my affirmation of the Roman Catholic definition of the canon of scripture.  The first two books of the Maccabees are Deuterocanonical, not Apocryphal.

First Maccabees probably dates to about 100 B.C.E.  The anonymous author’s composition is contemporary with Tobit, Judith, and most of Daniel.  The agenda of 1 Maccabees is the affirmation of the Hasmonean Dynasty.  After all, why were members of the Davidic Dynasty not on the throne of independent Judea?  That was the question of political legitimacy the author of 1 Maccabees addressed.

1 Maccabees 1:1-19 establishes the historical and cultural context:  Hellenism.  The passage names Alexander the Great (d. 323 B.C.E.) then moves along quickly to Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164/163 B.C.E.), King of the Seleucid Empire, one of the successors to Alexander’s expansive Macedonian Empire.  One may or may not recall the references to Antiochus IV Epiphanes in Daniel 7, 8, 9, and 11.  One may or may not also remember the allusion to the notorious monarch in 3 Maccabees 2-4.

The struggle against imposed Hellenism formed the backdrop of the Hasmonean Rebellion.  To make matters worse, some Jews turned apostate.

1 Maccabees 1:16-19 lays down another historical marker.  It mentions the successful Seleucid invasion of the Ptolemaic Empire during the reign (180-145 B.C.E.) of King Ptolemy VI Philometor in 169 B.C.E.  The reader who may be unfamiliar with this part of ancient history ought to know that the Seleucid and Ptolemaic Empires, successors to the sprawling Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great, fought each other.  Such a reader should also understand that ancient Palestine kept changing imperial masters, depending on the most germane military victory.  

Palestinian Jews still lived under occupation  Antiochus IV Epiphanes was an especially cruel imperial master.

How could Jews, even those dwelling in their ancestral homeland, live faithfully under the Seleucid Empire?

I clue you, O reader, in on a recurring motif in 1 Maccabees.  Keeping the divine covenant and the Law of Moses is essential, as the book teaches.  So is being pragmatic in faithful communal life.  But when does pragmatism cross the line over into the territory of unjust and faithless compromise?  This is a timeless question and a quandary.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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Building Up Each Other in Christ, Part IX   Leave a comment

Above:  King Hezekiah

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy household, the Church, in continual godliness;

that through thy protection it may be free from all adversities,

and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the glory of thy Name;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 223

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2 Chronicles 30:1-21

Psalms 128 and 129

Romans 1:1-17

John 4:46-54

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For I long to see you, that I may share with you some spiritual gift so that you may be strengthened, that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith, yours and mine.

–Romans 1:11-12, The New American Bible (1991)

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Faith thrives in faithful company.  That theme runs through the four assigned readings this Sunday.

  1. King Hezekiah’s great Passover celebration was part of a program of national religious reform.
  2. The author of Psalm 128 knew about home as a place to nourish faith.
  3. The author of Psalm 129 celebrated divine deliverance of the people of Israel prior to the Falls of Samaria and Jerusalem.  That author also encouraged faith among the people of Israel.
  4. St. Paul the Apostle longed to spend time with Christians in Rome.  (He got his wish a few years later.)
  5. Somebody’s faith was a component in stories of Jesus healing.  In this case, it was a father’s faith.

I write this post during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The last time I attended a worship service in a building in my parish was March 2020.  I have become accustomed to a church service being a livestream on YouTube.  I have, however, maintained some sense of ecclesiastical community via Zoom; I have kept teaching my weekly lectionary class.  Nevertheless, none of this has been as good as being in person, in church.  Behaving in a socially and morally responsible manner–a virtue–has come at a high cost.

Yet the work of the parish has not come to screeching halt.  We members have continued to build each other up.  We have continued to be faces of Christ to one another.

After all, faithful Christian community is about building each other up in Christ.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 27, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JEROME, PAULA OF ROME, EUSTOCHIUM, BLAESILLA, MARCELLA, AND LEA OF ROME

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANGELA MERICI, FOUNDRESS OF THE COMPANY OF SAINT URSULA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CAROLINA SANTOCANALE, FOUNDRESS OF THE CAPUCHIN SISTERS OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION

THE FEAST OF CASPAR NEUMANN, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PIERRE BATIFFOL, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, HISTORIAN, AND THEOLOGIAN

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Evangelizing and Discipling   Leave a comment

Above:  The Great Commission

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Second Sunday after Trinity, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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O Lord, who never failest to help and govern those

whom thou dost bring up in thy steadfast fear and love;

make us to have a perpetual fear and love of thy holy Name;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 186

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Proverbs 9:1-10

Psalm 76

Romans 10:1-15

Matthew 9:35-10:1

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These four readings combine to form a call for evangelism.  As Proverbs 9:10 tells us,

The beginning of wisdom is fear of the LORD,

And knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Psalm 76:11a reads:

Make vows to the LORD your God, and keep them;

let the peoples all around him bring their tribute….

The Revised English Bible (1989)

St. Paul the Apostle criticized Second Temple for lacking Jesus, not for being a legalistic, works-based-righteousness religion.  (Read E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 1977, O reader.)  In that context, St. Paul dictated:

But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how can they believe in whom of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone to preach?

–Romans 10:14, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Finally, Matthew 9:37-38 tells us:

Then [Jesus] said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

One could add the next step, discipling:

…Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

–Matthew 28:19-20a, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Each of us has a set of spiritual gifts.  I, as an introvert, become nervous at the thought of knocking on someone’s door.  In fact, I prefer that people not knock on my door when I am home.  When I am home, I prefer to stay away from the outside world, at least physically.  Going around, even in a team, and knocking on doors, for the purpose of evangelism, is not my style.

My Episcopal parish in Athens, Georgia, had begun a process of discerning God’s call upon the congregation, establishing goals, and working backward from those goals to develop strategies when the COVID-19 pandemic started.  Our goals fell into three headings:  Nourish, Go, and Grow.

My spiritual gifts fall primarily under the “Nourish” heading.  Discipleship is where I come into the picture most of the time.  That is fine; all spiritual gifts are necessary, and nobody has all of them.

I pray, O reader, that at least one of my devotional posts helps you along your walk with God in Christ.  And if, by blogging, I commit evangelism (not just discipling), so much the better.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 13, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILARY OF POITIERS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS, “ATHANASIUS OF THE WEST,” AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS PROTÉGÉ, SAINT MARTIN OF TOURS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF TOURS

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN KEIMANN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GEORGE FOX, FOUNDER OF THE RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS

THE FEAST OF MARY SLESSOR, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY IN WEST AFRICA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL PREISWERK, SWISS REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Loving Like Jesus, Part V   Leave a comment

Above: Wheat Harvest

Image in the Public Domain

Photographer = Scott Bauer, United States Fish and Wildlife Service

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For the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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We beseech thee, Almighty God, mercifully to look upon thy people,

that by thy great goodness they may be governed and preserved ever more,

both in body and soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 154

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Hosea 6:1-6

Psalm 2

Hebrews 9:11-28

John 12:23-33

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Rituals have legitimate places in religion.  They are essential to civilization.  Rituals are not properly talismans, though.  They cannot protect people from the consequences of persistent disobedience to God, individually and collectively.

We are counting down to Holy Week, hence the reading from Hebrews 9 and the lesson from John 12.  Jesus is the greatest role model in how we love people–selflessly, and at the cost of one’s life, if necessary.  Robert C. Wright, the Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta (and my bishop), exhorts people to “love like Jesus.”  Bishop Wright understands what that means.

Loving like Jesus is the mandate of every Christian person, congregation, diocese, denomination, et cetera.  It is the definition of being Christian.  When we love like Jesus, we may worthily perform sacred rituals.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 8, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT THORFINN OF HAMAR, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF A. J. MUSTE, DUTCH-AMERICAN MINISTER, LABOR ACTIVIST, AND PACIFIST

THE FEAST OF ARCHANGELO CORELLI, ROMAN CATHOLIC MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF NICOLAUS COPERNICUS AND GALILEO GALILEI, SCIENTISTS

THE FEAST OF HARRIET BEDELL, EPISCOPAL DEACONESS AND MISSIONARY

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Loving Like Jesus, Part III   1 comment

Above:  Icon of the Crucifixion

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:

Hosea 2:2-23 (Protestant and Anglican)/Hosea 2:4-25 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Psalm 33

Colossians 1:15-29

John 13:18-38

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The commandment of Jesus in the Gospel reading is that we love one another as he has loved us.  Keep in mind, O reader, that the love of Jesus took him to the cross.  I consider that every time I hear my bishop, Robert C. Wright, of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, tell people to “love like Jesus.”  Bishop Wright is well-acquainted with the Passion Narratives in the Gospels.

God is the only, universal deity.  The message of salvation is for all human beings with a pulse.  Divine judgment and mercy, ever in balance, are also on the menu.  Love has to be voluntary.  “Yes” can mean anything only if “no” is a feasible option.

The love of Christ impels us.

That is the slogan of the Claretians, a Roman Catholic order whose members perform many good works in the name of Jesus.  The love of Christ impelled St. Paul the Apostle and the original surviving disciples of Jesus.  It continues to impel people, faith communities, and religious orders.  May it compel more individuals, communities, and religious orders as time rolls on.  After all, we never see Jesus face to face in this life except in the faces of other human beings.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 6, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2021/01/06/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-in-lent-year-d-humes/

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The Divine Preference for the Poor, Part III   Leave a comment

Above:  The Parish Soup Kitchen, by George Elgar Hicks

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Third Sunday Before Lent, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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O Lord, we beseech thee favorably to hear the prayers of thy people;

that we, who are justly punished for our offenses,

may be mercifully delivered by thy goodness, for the glory of thy Name;

though Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord,

who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit,

ever one God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 136

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Ezekiel 3:4-11

Psalm 86

1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Matthew 5:1-16

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Some people are hopelessly stubborn; they refuse to heed wisdom.  They persist in telling God and those who speak for God to go fly a kite, so to speak.  They persist in behavior that harms even members of their community and congregation.

Taking the Holy Eucharist improperly has long been a topic for theologians and denominations.  Many of them have resorted to an excessive, Donatistic emphasis on doctrine as the litmus test for partaking of that sacrament.  Some still do.  I, as an Episcopalian, am, according to some denominations with congregations in my town, one of the theologically and doctrinally impure.  Therefore, if I were, theoretically, to take communion in any of those denominations, I would violate the rule of closed communion.  I favor open communion.  That is how “impure” I am.

The issue in Corinth had a particular context.  The Eucharist was still a communal meal in a house church.  Members of the congregation came from a variety of economic backgrounds.  Poorer members depended partially on food wealthier members provided.  Denying those vulnerable members of the church what they needed was wrong.  So was mistaking the Eucharist for an opportunity to drink too much.

The lectionary committee’s choice to schedule the Beatitudes from Matthew 5 was odd.  The Beatitudes and Woes from Luke 6 would have been better.  “Blessed are you who are poor” would have fit better than “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

The poor are always with us.  A combination of factors, from sound economic policy to good decisions, can raise many of them out of poverty.  Yet, even under the best of circumstances in the human order, the poor will always be with us.  Helping them is the wise, ethical course.  Blaming and scorning them is not.  Neither is criminalizing poverty, another matter of policy.

I write this post during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The economic damage of that virus is severe.  May governments and other institutions play their part in doing what they can–rebuilding systems and infrastructures so that the opportunities for the economically devastated to lead better lives will exist.  May the post-COVID-19 economic order be just.  And may we, as individuals, do what we can.  May we have proper attitudes, with actions to match.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 11, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE THIRTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF LUKE OF PRAGUE AND JOHN AUGUSTA, MORAVIAN BISHOPS AND HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT KAZIMIERZ TOMASZ SYKULSKI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1942

THE FEAST OF LARS OLSEN SKREFSRUD, HANS PETER BOERRESEN, AND PAUL OLAF BODDING, LUTHERAN MISSIONARIES IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF MARYRS OF EL MOZOTE, EL SALVADOR, DECEMBER 11-12, 1981

THE FEAST OF SAINT SEVERIN OTT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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Temples of God   Leave a comment

Above:  Ruins of Corinth, Greece, 1898

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-07406

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For the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Almighty and Everliving God, mercifully look upon our infirmities,

and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth Thy right hand to help and defend us;

through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 129

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Jeremiah 33:6-9

Psalm 34

1 Corinthians 3:1-23

Matthew 8:1-13

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Ne savez-vous pas que vous êtes le temple de Dieu, et que l’Esprit de Dieu habite en vous?

–1 Corinthiens 3:16, Nouvelle Version Segond Révisée (1978)

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The “you” in 1 Corinthians 3;16 is plural.  (Notice the French text, O reader.  It reads, vous, not tu.  Also, 1 Corinthians is a letter to a congregation, not an individual.)  This means that even the fractious Corinthian congregation, with which St. Paul the Apostle had problems, was a temple of God.  We know from the (First) Letter of St. Clement of Rome to the Corinthians that, at the end of the first century C.E. and the beginning of the second century C.E., the Corinthian church had not changed its ways and followed St. Paul’s advice.  We may also assume that the Corinthian church remained a temple of God nevertheless.

Congregations and individuals are temples of God in Pauline theology.  Also in Pauline theology, no person has a body.  No, a person is a body.  Likewise, a congregation is also a body, as the larger church is a body, too.

Christians belong to Christ, who is God and belongs to God.  (Don’t get me started on the deliberate confusion built into Trinitarian theology, O reader.  I am content to leave the divine mystery and the violations of human philosophical norms in place lest I commit a heresy by attempting to explain them.)  We belong to God, who judges and pardons.  We belong to God, who reaches out to and finds faith in Gentiles and Jews alike.  The praise of God should always be in our mouths, individually and collectively.

How many of us can, without issuing an “ahem,” affirm that the congregation to which we belong is a temple of God?  I can.  I do.  I think, however, of some of the congregations to which I have belonged.  I recall some of the rural, provincial, and narrow-minded congregations my father served as a minister in the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church.  I have difficulty recognizing certain congregations in which I grew up as temples of God.  Yet I must affirm that if there was hope for the Corinthian church, there was also hope for the unpleasant, anti-intellectual congregations I knew as a youth and have happily relegated to my past.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 7, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE NINTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA JOSEPHA ROSSELLO, COFOUNDER OF THE DAUGHTERS OF OUR LADY OF PITY

THE FEAST OF ANNE ROSS COUSIN, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EMMA FRANCIS, LUTHERAN DEACONESS IN THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS AND HARLEM

THE FEAST OF GEORG FRIEDRICH HELLSTROM, DUTCH-GERMAN MORAVIAN MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM GUSTAVE POLACK, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

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A Covenant People, Part VI   Leave a comment

Above:  Sunrise

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Feast of the Epiphany, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only begotten Son to the Gentiles;

mercifully grant, that, we, who know thee now by faith,

may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead;

through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord,

who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit,

ever one God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 123

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Isaiah 49:1-9

Psalm 72

Ephesians 2:1-22

Matthew 3:13-17

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The fully-realized Kingdom of God remains in the future tense.  It is a state of affairs in which exploitation, violence, and social injustice cease to exist.  It stands in stark contrast to our reality, marred and defined by those sins plus hostilities, both one-sided and mutual.  The Kingdom of God is already partially realized, at least from a human perspective, one bound by time.  It was evident in the life and ministry of Jesus.  It remains evident in the lives of faithful followers of God.

Ephesians 2 reminds us that, in Christ, God breaks down barriers of hostility separating people and groups of people.  Yet we mere mortals frequently rebuild those barriers.  One of my favorite single-cell cartoons depicts people with big pencils drawing lines yet using the eraser at the other end of a pencil.  The image is probably under copyright protection, so I have not looked for it, to add to this post.  Perhaps you, O reader, can find it and see what I mean.

God calls we of the faith to be a covenant people.  The best guess regarding the identity of the servant in Isaiah 49 is the personification of faithful Jews.  God calls us to help the faithless join or rejoin the flock, whether or not they are of our “tribe.”  God equips us to function as agents of reconciliation, both collectively and individually.  God invites us to live as agents of grace.

Edmond Browning, a former Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, emphasized a certain theme, “No Outsiders.”  He paid close attention of Ephesians 2.  In Christ, Browning preached, there are no outsiders.  In Christ, the Presiding Bishop proclaimed, everyone is an insider.  

This message remains as radical and offensive as it was nearly 2000 years ago.  This is the message at the heart at the heart of the Feast of the Epiphany and the season that follows it.  The light shining upon the Gentiles and inviting them to join the covenant people is the essence of the Epiphany.

Happy Epiphany, O reader!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 4, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE SIXTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN OF DAMASCUS AND COSMAS OF MAIUMA, THEOLOGIANS AND HYMNODISTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXANDER HOTOVITZKY, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1937

THE FEAST OF SAINT BERNARD OF PARMA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH MOHR; AUSTRIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST; AND FRANZ GRUBER, AUSTRIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC TEACHER, MUSICIAN, AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINT OSMUND OF SALISBURY, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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God’s First Call of Jonah, with Jonah’s Flight   Leave a comment

Above:  Israeli Stamp of Jonah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JONAH

PART I

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Jonah 1:1-17 (Protestant and Anglican)

Jonah 1:1-2:1 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

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Where can I go then from your Spirit?

where can I flee from your presence?

If I climb up to heaven, you are there;

if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

–Psalm 139:6-7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The Book of Jonah is a theologically rich work of pious fiction.  Other works within that category in the Old Testament include Esther, Daniel, Tobit, and Judith.  The story of Jonah, written after the Babylonian Exile, contradicts the combined witness of ancient historical sources and much of the Hebrew Bible.  That is fine.  It is not a problem if one reads the Book of Jonah for what it is.

Shall we begin, O reader?

Nineveh was the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.  Empires rose and fell in Mesopotamia and beyond.  The Neo-Assyrian Empire was notoriously violent.  The Neo-Assyrian Empire absorbed the Kingdom of Aram in 732 B.C.E. and the Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.E..  Then the Neo-Assyrian Empire menaced the Kingdom of Judah and reduced it to vassalage.  Finally, the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire conquered the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 609 B.C.E.

The story of Jonah played out before the fall of Samaria.  The titular character was a subject of the Kingdom of Israel.  His name comes from that of a prophet (2 Kings 14:25) who prophesied during the reign (788-747 B.C.E.) of King Jeroboam II of Israel.

Jonah received and immediately rejected the call of God.  He went not to Nineveh but in the opposite direction–to the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea.  He paid his fare for a journey to Tarshish, perhaps in Asia Minor or Spain.  During a severe storm, Jonah’s faithlessness became obvious.  The pagan sailors had more faith in YHWH than Jonah did.  Jonah probably hoped for death; it would spare him having to go to Nineveh.

God had other plans, though.

The author, writing in the Persian Period, knew well that Nineveh lay in ruins.  He also had a relatively generous attitude toward many Gentiles.  Persian kings sponsored the building of the Second Temple and the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls.  King Cyrus II of the Persians and the Medes had conquered the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire and permitted Jewish exiles to return to their ancestral homeland.

Another theme present in these verses is the balance of divine judgment and mercy.  Repentance can avert judgment, or delay it, at least.  We tend to approve of divine mercy on ourselves and on those similar to us, do we not?  And do we not also prefer divine judgment on those we find objectionable.  Perhaps they are objectionable.  They are also human beings who bear the image of God.  They need to repent as much as we do.

I have learned much about the churched and the unchurched via conversations.  I have learned that the minds of many of the unchurched are more open to deep theological discussions than those of many of the churched.  I have chosen a denomination (The Episcopal Church) renowned for its embrace of questions.  I have, however, long known that many other denominations have cultures hostile to questions.  Some of their members have told me to my face and via email that I will go to Hell because I ask too many questions and think too much.  I did not make the mistake afterward of mistaking them for people who ask a sufficient number of questions and think enough.  I have also found that many of the unchurched, often refugees from churches, are often open to engaging in serious theological discussions.

The point that the pagan sailors had more faith in YHWH than Jonah did resonates with me, therefore.  To borrow a theme from the New Testament, especially the Gospel of Mark, those who think they are insiders may actually be outsiders, and visa versa.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 9, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARTIN CHEMNITZ, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN, AND “SECOND MARTIN”

THE FEAST OF JOHANN(ES) MATTHAUS MEYFART, GERMAN LUTHERAN EDUCATOR AND DEVOTIONAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF MARGERY KEMPE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC AND PILGRIM

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CROSWELL, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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