Archive for the ‘Hebrews 12’ Category

The Golden Rule, Part VII   Leave a comment

Above:  The Return of the Prodigal Son

Image in the Public Domain

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For Ash Wednesday, Year 1

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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 Everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made,

and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent;

create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we,

worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness,

may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 144

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Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 37:1-11

Hebrews 12:1-14

Luke 15

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Sins and responsibilities are individual, collective, active, and passive.  Sins of omission are as real as sins of commission.  Personal peccadilloes are matters of legitimate moral concern, but obsessing on them to the extent of neglecting the moral imperative of moral, societal revolution in institutions is also sinful.  Giving to help the poor is good, but working to alter institutions that keep them poor is better.  Overemphasizing individual responsibility frequently leads to blaming victims and to overlooking systemic, baked-in inequality.  Challenging such systems is controversial, of course.

We–as individuals, towns, families, subcultures, societies, countries, et cetera–have a divine and moral mandate to combine piety and equality of opportunity.  We need to move beyond the obsession with salvation and address Biblical mandates related to judicial and economic justice.  Living according to the Golden Rule demands nothing less.

This post is a devotion for Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  At this time of the ecclesiastical year we emphasize confession of sins, followed by repentance.  If we do not turn around when we ought to do so, we have at least one spiritual problem.  This Lent I invite you, O reader, to permit the radical call of the Golden Rule to change your attitudes and life.  May you correctly perceive the divine guidance as you do this.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 22, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT DEOGRATIAS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF CARTHAGE

THE FEAST OF EMMANUEL MOURNIER, PERSONALIST PHILOSOPHER

THE FEAST OF JAMES DE KOVEN, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF THOMAS HUGHES, BRITISH SOCIAL REFORMER AND MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM EDWARD HICKSON, ENGLISH MUSIC EDUCATOR AND SOCIAL REFORMER

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Pointing Toward Jesus   Leave a comment

Above:  St. John the Baptist

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year 1

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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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Stir up, O Lord, we beseech thee, thy power, and come,

with great might to succor us, that by the help of thy grace

whatsoever is hindered by our sins may be speedily accomplished,

through thy mercy and satisfaction;

who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

ever, One God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 111

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Isaiah 9:2-7

Psalm 8

Hebrews 12:1-12

Luke 1:59-80

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Before I get to my main point, two assigned passages call out for elucidation.

  1. The literal translation of the line from Psalm 8 is, “a little lower than the gods,” not “a little lower than the angels.”  The “gods,” or elohim, in Hebrew, are members of YHWH’s heavenly court.
  2. Isaiah 9:2-7 speaks of the ideal Davidic king.  Perhaps the original monarch was Hezekiah of Judah (reigned 727/715-698/687 B.C.E.).  The description fits Jesus better.

The juxtaposition of Luke 1:59-80 and Hebrews 12:1-12 may seem odd at first.  Upon reflection, however, its purpose becomes clear and plain.  This juxtaposition functions as a reminder of the purpose behind the Incarnation:  the Atonement, via the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  One may recall that Johann Sebastian Bach incorporated the Passion Chorale into the Christmas Oratorio.  We are correct to rejoice during the seasons of Advent and Christmas, but one must not stop there.  No, we need to follow Jesus to Calvary then to an empty tomb, too.

We read foreshadowing of the crucifixion of Jesus in the lesson from Luke 1.  Do we not know the fat that befell St. John the Baptist?

What then will this child become?

–Luke 1:66b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

A question for each of us is,

What then will I become?

May all of us become agents of God whenever and wherever we are.  We cannot, temporally, be forerunners of Jesus.  We can, however, point to him, as St. John the Baptist did.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 11, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN SWERTNER, DUTCH-GERMAN MORAVIAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND HYMNAL EDITOR; AND HIS COLLABORATOR, JOHN MUELLER, GERMAN-ENGLISH MORAVIAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNAL EDITOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT AENGUS THE CULDEE, HERMIT AND MONK; AND SAINT MAELRUAN, ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT EULOGIUS OF SPAIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF TOLEDO, CORDOBA; AND SAINT LEOCRITA; ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 859

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS WAYLAND, U.S. BAPTIST MINISTER, EDUCATOR, AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAL PRENNUSHI, ALBANIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1948

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Curses and Punishments   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Jesus Cursing the Fig Tree

Image in the Public Domain

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Numbers 14:1-27 or Malachi 1:1; 2:1-10

Psalm 73:12, 15-23

Hebrews 12:1-9, 22-24, 28-29

Mark 11:12-33

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What is the chief and highest end of man?

Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

–The Westminster Larger Catechism, quoted in Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), The Book of Confessions (2007), 195

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We read of the opposite behavior in today’s readings, with pious material in Psalm 73, if one consults the complete text.  Priests are supposed to lead people to God.  A fig tree is supposed to show evidence of figs in development outside of fig season.  People are supposed to trust God, especially after witnessing dramatic, mighty divine deeds and manifestations.

The two-part story of the cursed fig tree bookends the Temple Incident, as scholars of the New Testament like to call the Cleansing of the Temple.  The literary-theological effect of this arrangement of material is to comment on corruption at the Temple just a few days prior to the crucifixion of Jesus.  One does well to apply the condemnation to corruption anywhere.

Perhaps we usually think of punishment as something we do not want.  This makes sense.  In legal systems, for example, probation, fines, and incarceration are forms of punishment.  Parents sometimes punish children by grounding them.  However, the punishment of which we read in Numbers 14 (comprehension of which depends on having read Chapter 13) was to give the the fearful, faithless people what they wanted–never to enter the Promised Land.  As an old saying tells us, we ought to be careful what we wish for because we may get it.

What do we really want and what do we really need?  May God grant us what we really need.  May we be grateful for it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 27, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF BROOKE FOSS WESTCOTT, ANGLICAN SCHOLAR, BIBLE TRANSLATOR, AND BISHOP OF DURHAM; AND FENTON JOHN ANTHONY HORT, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN HENRY BATEMAN, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHAN NORDAHL BRUN, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN BISHOP, AUTHOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM REED HUNTINGTON, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND RENEWER OF THE CHURCH; AND HIS GRANDSON, WILLIAM REED HUNTINGTON, U.S. ARCHITECT AND QUAKER PEACE ACTIVIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2019/07/27/devotion-for-proper-27-year-b-humes/

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Jesus as a Threatening Figure   Leave a comment

Above:   Triumphal Entry

Image in the Public Domain

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For Palm Sunday, Year 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty and everliving God, who gave thy Son to be a leader and servant of men:

grant that as he entered Jerusalem to suffer and die for us,

we may enter his world, follow his example, and, by his power,

live in obedience to thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 121

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Zechariah 9:8-10

Hebrews 12:1-6

Luke 19:29-44

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The Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem was an overtly political act with apocalyptic overtones.  He looked like the ideal Davidic king, who had already won, arriving for negotiations after a battle.  Romans may not have noticed the symbolism, but Temple officials were far from oblivious to it.

The old Presbyterian lectionary, by focusing on Palm Sunday, not Passion Sunday, permits us to focus on the Triumphal Entry, not treat it like a prologue to a Passion Narrative.  This narrow focus lets helps us to ponder whether we think of Jesus as a threat.  If we do, we need to take that sin to him and surrender it.  The portrayal of Jesus in the Gospels is of him as, among other things, an instigator and a trouble-maker for God.

Consider a hypothetical question, O reader.  Suppose your church is seeking a new priest or pastor.  One candidate stands out.  He or she argues with ecclesiastical authorities, dines frequently with disreputable people, has questionable credentials, transgresses societal norms often, and runs afoul of political authorities habitually.  Is he or she a feasible applicant for the job?

Think about it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 25, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIAM OF VERCELLI, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT; AND SAINT JOHN OF MATERA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMINGO HENARES DE ZAFIRA CUBERO, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF PHUNHAY, VIETNAM, AND MARTYR; SAINT PHANXICÔ DO VAN CHIEU, VIETNAMESE ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR; AND SAINT CLEMENTE IGNACIO DELGADO CEBRIÁN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP AND MARTYR IN VIETNAM

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The Communion of Saints, Part III   1 comment

Above:  All Saints

Image in the Public Domain

THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS (NOVEMBER 1)

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Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in the mystical body of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord:

Give us grace to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living,

that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit

lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2006), 663; also Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 59

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Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18

Psalm 34:1-10, 22

1 John 3:1-3

Matthew 5:1-12

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The Episcopal Church has seven Principal Feasts:  Easter Day, Ascension Day, the Day of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, All Saints’ Day, Christmas Day, and the Epiphany.

The Feast of All Saints, with the date of November 1, seems to have originated in Ireland in the 700s, then spread to England, then to Europe proper.  November 1 became the date of the feast throughout Western Europe in 835.  There had been a competing date (May 13) in Rome starting in 609 or 610.  Anglican tradition retained the date of November 1, starting with The Book of Common Prayer (1549).  Many North American Lutherans first observed All Saints’ Day with the Common Service Book (1917).  The feast was already present in The Lutheran Hymnary (Norwegian-American, 1913).  The Lutheran Hymnal (Missouri Synod, et al, 1941) also included the feast.  O the less formal front, prayers for All Saints’ Day were present in the U.S. Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (Revised) (1932), the U.S. Methodist Book of Worship for Church and Home (1945), and their successors.

The Feast of All Saints reminds us that we, as Christians, belong to a large family stretching back to the time of Christ.  If one follows the Lutheran custom of commemorating certain key figures from the Hebrew Bible, the family faith lineage predates the conception of Jesus of Nazareth.

At Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta, Georgia, where I was a member from 1993 to 1996, I participated in a lectionary discussion group during the Sunday School hour.  Icons decorated the walls of the room in which we met.  The teacher of the class called the saints depicted “the family.”

“The family” surrounds us.  It is so numerous that it is “a great cloud of witnesses,” to quote Hebrews 12:1.  May we who follow Jesus do so consistently, by grace, and eventually join that great cloud.

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Gendered language does not bother me.  Gender is, after all, a reality of human life.  Besides, neutering language frequently blurs the divide between the singular and the plural, hence my objections to the singular “they,” “them,” “their” and “themselves.”  One can–and should–be inclusive linguistically in such a way as to respect the difference between the singular and the plural.  I do understand the issue of clarity, however.  I know that how members of one generation, in a particular cultural context, perceive a gendered term, such as “sons,” differs greatly from how others elsewhere, at another time, do.  Certain modern English translations of the Bible, in an admirable attempt to be inclusive, obscure subleties of gendered terms sometimes.  However, translating a text literally does not make those subtleties clear, either.  Commentaries are necessary for that.

Consider, for example, Romans 8:14-17, O reader.  In that passage the Greek for “sons of God” often comes across in modern English as “children of God.”  Likewise, we read “children” when the Greek word means “sons.”  The cultural context, in which sons, but not daughters, inherited, is vital to understanding that portion of scripture, in which Christians, whether they are biologically sons or daughters, inherit, via Jesus.  Thus “sons of God” includes daughters.  None of that is superficially evident, however.

In contrast, “children,” as in “children of God, as opposed to “children of Satan,” in 1 John 3:1 and 3:10 is a literal translation from the Greek; the Greek word is not gender-specific.  That fact is not superficially evident, however, given the recent tendency to gloss over gendered language.  A commentary is necessary to understand that aspect of 1 John 3:1 and 3:10.

Our societies condition us in ways that frequently do not apply to the cultural contexts that informed ancient texts.

In 1929 Lesbia Scott wrote:

They lived not only in ages past,

There are hundreds of thousands still,

The world is bright with the joyous saints

Who love to do Jesus’ will.

You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,

In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,

For the saints of God are just folk like me,

And I mean to be one too.

The apocalyptic hope present in Daniel 7, the community focus of Psalm 34, and the counter-cultural values of the Beatitudes should encourage us to persist is fidelity to God, to do so in faith community, and without resorting to serial contrariness, to lead lives that reject those cultural values contrary to the message of the Beatitudes.  We must do this for the glory of God and the benefit of people near, far away, and not yet born.  And, when our earthly pilgrimage ends, others will take up the cause we join what Hebrews 12:1 calls

a great cloud of witnesses.

Members of that great cloud of witnesses are sons and daughters of God–inheritors of the promise, by the grace of God.  Certain cultures restrict inheritance rights according to gender, but God does not.  Each of us, by grace and faith, can be among the sons of God and the children of the light.

And I mean to be one, too.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 17, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUTTA OF DISIBODENBERG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS; AND HER STUDENT, SAINT HILDEGARD OF BINGEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF GERARD MOULTRIE, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZYGMUNT SZCESNY FELINSKI, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF WARSAW, TITULAR BISHOP OF TARSUS, AND FOUNDER OF RECOVERY FOR THE POOR AND THE CONGREGATION OF THE FRANCISCAN SISTERS OF THE FAMILY OF MARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZYGMUNT SAJNA, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1940

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/09/17/devotion-for-the-feast-of-all-saints-years-a-b-c-and-d-humes/

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A Faithful Response, Part VI   1 comment

Above:  Ministry of the Apostles

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:

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Psalm 70

Hebrews 12:1-3

John 13:21-32

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As I read Isaiah 50:4-9a, I realized that I had, very recently, written about that passage in the post for Palm/Passion Sunday.  I have decided not to duplicate the essence of that analysis here, but rather to provide a link.

Likewise, a portion of Psalm 70 reminded me of Psalm 71:13, about which I wrote in the post for Tuesday of Holy Week.  I have therefore provided a link to that post also.

Now for Hebrews 12:1-3 and John 13:21-32….

The audience for the poorly named Letter to the Hebrews (actually a treatise) was Gentile Christians.  The author encouraged them to derive courage from the example of Jesus.  Those who crucified Christ intended his execution as a method of disgrace and extermination, but it became, as the Gospel of John stated so well, his glorification (12:23).  Jesus gave the commandment, first to his Apostles (minus Judas Iscariot), to love one another as he loved them.  That commandment has come to apply to Christians.

Jesus loved sacrificially and unconditionally.  He loved all the way to his death.

That is a daunting challenge.  Being a Christian is about serving people, not lording over them.  Many Christians are fortunate; they will never be in a position to face the possibility or reality of martyrdom.  Others are less fortunate, though.  The annals of Christian history are replete with the sacrifices of martyrs.  But all of us must, if we are to follow Christ, love one another as he loved his Apostles–sacrificially and unconditionally.  This, possible via grace, is a mandate, not a recommendation.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 27, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B:  TRINITY SUNDAY

THE FEAST OF PAUL GERHARDT, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ALFRED ROOKER, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST PHILANTHROPIST AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SISTER, ELIZABETH ROOKER PARSON, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF AMELIA BLOOMER, U.S. SUFFRAGETTE

THE FEAST OF SAINT LOJZE GROZDE, SLOVENIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2018/05/27/devotion-for-wednesday-of-holy-week-years-a-b-c-and-d-humes/

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Metaphors and Repentance   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Transfiguration

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be to us both a sacrifice for sin,

and also an example of godly life:

Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit,

and also daily endeavor ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life;

through the same your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), pages 95-96

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Exodus 33:18-23

Psalm 40

Hebrews 12:18-29

Matthew 17:1-9

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The safest language to use when writing or speaking of the nature of God is that of poetic metaphors.  God is like a father.  God is like a mother eagle.  God is like a consuming fire.  God is literally none of these, and each of them is insufficient for the task of describing God adequately.  No human language can accomplish that job.

Perhaps anthropomorphizing God is impossible for a human being, for each of us has a human perspective.  The Bible contains much anthropomorphizing of the divine.  A ubiquitous assumption in the Hebrew Bible is that God has some kind of physical (probably human) form.  Related to that assumption, as in Exodus 33:18-23, is that to see the divine face is, in the words of a note from The Jewish Study Bible-Second Edition (2014),

too awesome for humans to survive.

–Page 179

That sense of the lethal holiness of God is absent from stories of Abraham, who literally walked with God, according to Genesis.  That sense of the lethal holiness of God is also absent from all the stories of Jesus.

The reading from Exodus 33 occurs within a narrative setting.  Prior to it Moses is pleading with God, who is refusing to dwell among the Hebrews.  In Chapter 34 God renews the covenant.  Then, in the construction of the Tabernacle (to replace the tent pitched outside the camp in Chapter 33) occurs and the Presence of the LORD fills the Tabernacle.

There is never a bad time to recommit to God, of course.  The season of Lent is a liturgical time set apart to emphasize such matters.  We all need reminders, do we not?  Fortunately, the church calendar proves helpful in that regard.  May we respond faithfully year-round to God, whose compassion is great, who desires that all turn to Him, who balances judgment in mercy in ways we cannot imagine, whose nature eludes us, and who approaches us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT:  THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON, ABOLITIONIST AND FEMINIST; AND MARIA STEWART, ABOLITIONIST, FEMINIST, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB AND DOROTHY BUXTON, FOUNDERS OF SAVE THE CHILDREN

THE FEAST OF FRANK MASON NORTH, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER

THE FEAST OF MARY CORNELIA BISHOP GATES, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED HYMN WRITER

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