Archive for the ‘Hebrews’ Category

Good Liturgy and the Covenant Written on Our Hearts   1 comment

John the Baptist in Prison

Above:  John the Baptist in Prison, by Josef Anton Hafner

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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Exodus 25:1-40

Psalm 73

Matthew 11:1 (2-11) 12-15 (16-19) 20-24 (25-30) or Luke 7:18-35

Hebrews 8:1-13

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But for me it is good to be near God;

I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,

to tell of all your works.

–Psalm 73:28, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Hebrews 8 speaks of an internalized covenant, the law written on human hearts.  This is an echo of Jeremiah 31:31-34.  It is a covenant not written on the hearts of certain Pharisees and scribes in Luke 7.  When one reads the entirety of Luke 7 one realizes that the Pharisees and scribes in question were guilty of obsessing over minor details while twisting the law to accept financial donations that impoverished innocent third parties.  Thus these particular religious people were guilty of violating the principle of the Law of Moses that prohibits economic exploitation.  One also learns that a Gentile woman had the covenant written on her heart.  Likewise, those who criticized St. John the Baptist for his asceticism and Jesus for eating and drinking were seeking excuses to condemn others.  They did not have the covenant written on their hearts.

There is no fault in maintaining sacred spaces and beautiful rituals.  We mere mortals need sacred spaces that differ from other spaces and rituals that inspire our souls.  Good liturgy should make us better people.  It if does not, the fault is with us.  May it inspire us to recognize and serve God in each other.  May good liturgy, in conjunction with the covenant written on our hearts, help us find ways to act as effectively on divine principles, for the maximum benefit to others and the greatest possible glory to God.  May we refrain from carping language that tears others down and seek ways to build them up, for we are stronger together in the body of faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 1, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SUNDAR SINGH, INDIAN CHRISTIAN EVANGELIST

THE FEAST OF DAVID PENDLETON OAKERHATER, EPISCOPAL DEACON

THE FEAST OF SAINT FIACRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-of-christmas-year-d/

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To Glorify and Enjoy God   1 comment

St. John the Baptist Preaching

Above:  St. John the Baptist Preaching, by Mattia Preti

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 14:1-25

Psalm 144

John 3:22-38

Hebrews 5:11-6:20

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Happy are the people to whom such blessings falls;

happy are the people whose God is the LORD.

–Psalm 144:15, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Timothy Matthew Slemmons, in creating his proposed Year D, has grouped stories of rebellion against God and cautions against opposing God together in Advent.  It is a useful tactic, for, as much as one might know something, reminders prove helpful.

In Hebrews we read of the reality of apostasy (falling away from God) and the imperative of not doing so.  It is a passage with which those whose theology precludes the possibility of apostasy must contend.  I, as one raised a United Methodist and, as of a few years ago, converted to affirming Single Predestination, know much about the theology of free will in relation to salvation.  On a lighter note, I also recall an old joke about Methodists:  Not only do they believe in falling from grace, but they practice it often.  (If one cannot be religious and have a well-developed sense of humor, one has a major problem.)  Although I like Methodism in general (more so than certain regional variations of it), I cannot be intellectually honest and return to it, given Methodist theology regarding the denial of Single Predestination.

As Hebrews 6:19-20 tells us, the faithfulness of God is the anchor of our souls, and Jesus is a forerunner on our behalf.  In John 3:22-38 we read of his forerunner, St. John the Baptist, who pointed to Jesus, not to himself.  I have no doubt that

He must grow greater; I must become less.

–John 3:30, The Revised English Bible (1989),

words attributed to St. John the Baptist, are not historical.  Neither do I doubt their theological truth.  St. John the Baptist probably said something to the effect of that sentence, I argue.  I also insist that those words apply to all of us in the human race.  Jesus must grow greater; each of us must become less.  To act according to the ethos of glorifying oneself might lead to short-term gain, but it also leads to negative consequences for oneself in the long term and for others in the short, medium, and long terms.

The call of God entails the spiritual vocation of humility, or, in simple terms, of being down to earth.  The highest and chief end of man, the Westminster Catechisms teach us correctly, is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.  To arrive at that point one must trust in and follow God, whom we ought not to forget or neglect at any time, but especially in December, in the immediate temporal proximity of the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 22, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JACK LAYTON, CANADIAN ACTIVIST AND FEDERAL LEADER OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY

THE FEAST OF JOHN DRYDEN, ENGLISH PURITAN THEN ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AND TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/devotion-for-the-fourth-sunday-of-advent-year-d/

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Pointing to God, Not Ourselves   1 comment

Moses Striking the Rock in Horeb

Above:  Moses Strikes the Rock in Horeb, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Numbers 12:1-16 or 20:1-13 (14-21) 22-29

Psalm 106:(1) 7-18, 24-18 (43-48) or Psalm 95

Luke 1:(57) 58-67 (68-79) 80

Hebrews 3:1-19

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Many times he delivered them,

but they were rebellious in their purposes,

and were brought low through their iniquity.

Nevertheless he regarded their distress

when he heard their cry.

–Psalm 106:43-44, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,

as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

when your ancestors tested me,

and put me to the proof, though you had seen my work.

–Psalm 95:8-9, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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In most of the readings for this day we read of grumbling against God and/or Moses despite God’s proven track record, frequently in the presence of those who go on to grumble.  Miriam and Aaron question the authority of Moses in Numbers 12. Miriam becomes ritually unclean because of this (Do not question Moses!), but her brother intercedes for her.  People witness then seem to forget God’s mighty acts in Psalms 95 and 106, as well as in Hebrews 3.  And, in Numbers 20, Moses disobeys instructions from God.  He is supposed to speak to a rock to make water come out of it, but he strikes it instead.

By word and act Moses is thus appropriating to himself an act of God.  In doing this he is undoing the message that God and Moses himself have been conveying to the to the people up to this point.  The people have continuously directed their attention to Moses instead of to God….Until this episode Moses has repeatedly told the people, “It is not from my own heart,” and “You are congregating against YHWH,” but now his words and actions confirm the people’s own perception.

–Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah with a New English Translation and the Hebrew Text (2001), page 495

Moses was generally trustworthy in the sight of God, per the positive assessment of him in Hebrews 3.  At Meribah he gave into human weakness.  All of us have caved into our own weaknesses on multiple occasions, have we not?  Have we not, for example, sought our own glory instead of that of God?  Have we not yielded to the temptation to be spectacular, which Henri J. M. Nouwen identified in The Way of the Heart (1981) as one of Satan’s temptations of Jesus in Luke 4 and Matthew 4?   If we have lived long enough, yes, we have.

And you, my child, will be called Prophet of the Most High,

for you will be the Lord’s forerunner to prepare his way

and lead his people to a knowledge of salvation

through the forgiveness of sins:

for in the tender compassion of our God

the dawn of heaven will break upon us,

to shine on those who live in darkness, under the shadow of death,

and to guide our feet in the way of peace.

–St. Zechariah in Luke 1:76-79, The Revised English Bible (1989)

St. John the Baptist grew up and became one who admitted the truth that he was not the Messiah (Luke 3:15-17 and Mark 1:7-8).  He pointed to cousin Jesus instead (Matthew 3:13-14 and John 3:25-36).

The spiritual vocations of Christians vary in details, but the common threads run through those calls from God.  We who call ourselves Christians have, for example, a responsibility to glorify God, not ourselves, and to point to Jesus.  We also have an obligation to lead lives defined by gratitude to God, not rebellion against God.  We can succeed, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 20, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN BAJUS, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/08/20/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-of-advent-year-d/

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Compassion and the Sabbath   1 comment

Christ_heals_tne_man_with_paralysed_hand

Above:  Christ Healing the Man with the Withered Hand

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

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

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

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

because of human sin, we may rise victorious through

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 20:1-17 (Monday)

Ezekiel 20:18-32 (Tuesday)

Ezekiel 20:33-44 (Wednesday)

Psalm 109:21-31 (All Days)

Hebrews 3:7-4:11 (Monday)

Revelation 3:7-13 (Tuesday)

Luke 6:6-11 (Wednesday)

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Let them know that yours is the saving hand,

that this, Yahweh, is your work.

–Psalm 109:27, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Ezekiel 20 is a stinging indictment of an intergenerational, societal pattern of infidelity to God, who has done so much and required mere obedience in return.  In the Hebrew Bible keeping the Law of Moses is a faithful response to God.  Not observing that code, with its timeless principles and culturally specific applications thereof, leads to negative consequences in the Old Testament.  In contrast to Ezekiel 20 is Revelation 3:7-13, in which the church at Philadelphia has remained faithful in the midst of adversity.  The text encourages that congregation to remain faithful amidst hardship, a message also present in the lection from Hebrews.

Keeping the Sabbath is a related theme in some of these days’ readings.  I covered that topic in the previous post, so I will not repeat myself here.  In Luke 6:6-11 Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath.  Certain critics of our Lord and Savior accused him of having acted inappropriately, given the day.  Jesus replied that all days are good days to commit good deeds.

As I understand Jewish Sabbath laws, Jesus acted consistently with the best spirit of them.  I have heard, for example, of Jewish doctors and nurses whose work in emergency rooms (including on the Jewish Sabbath) is an expression of their faith.  As for the account in Luke 6:6-11, our Lord and Savior’s accusers were especially strict and represented one part of the spectrum of opinion regarding the question of how to keep the Sabbath.  According to a note in The Jewish Annotated New Testament (2011), the Law of Moses forbade work on the Sabbath without defining “work.”  Germane texts were Exodus 20:10; Exodus 31:14-15; and Leviticus 23:3.  Previous study has revealed to me that, at the time of Jesus, strict Jewish Sabbath regulations permitted providing basic first aid and saving a life on that day.  If saving a life was permissible on the Sabbath, why not healing on that day?

I suppose that our Lord and Savior’s accusers in Luke 6:6-11 thought they were holding fast to their obligations to God.  They erred, however, by becoming lost in details and losing sight of compassion and kindness.

May we avoid the opposite errors of caring about the wrong details in the name of piety and of not caring enough or at all.  May we act out of compassion and kindness every day of the week.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 24, 2016 COMMON ERA

MAUNDY THURSDAY

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

THE FEAST OF SAINT DIDACUS JOSEPH OF CADIZ, CAPUCHIN FRIAR

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

THE FEAST OF PAUL COUTURIER, ECUMENIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/24/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-16-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Grace and Character Flaws   1 comment

Parable of the Sower

Above:  The Parable of the Sower

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Eternal God, you draw near to us in Christ, and you make yourself our guest.

Amid the cares of our lives, make us attentive to your presence,

that we may treasure your word above all else,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 12:10-20 (Thursday)

Genesis 13:1-18 (Friday)

Genesis 14:1-16 (Saturday)

Psalm 15 (All Days)

Hebrews 5:1-6 (Thursday)

Ephesians 3:14-21 (Friday)

Luke 8:4-10 (Saturday)

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Yahweh, who can find a home in your tent,

who can dwell on your holy mountain?

Whoever lives blamelessly,

who acts uprightly,

who speaks the truth from the heart,

who keeps the tongue under control,

who does not wrong a comrade,

who casts no discredit on a neighbour,

who looks with scorn on the vile,

but honours those who fear Yahweh,

who stands by an oath at any cost,

who asks no interest on loans,

who takes no bribe to harm the innocent.

No one who so acts can ever be shaken.

–Psalm 15, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Abram (later Abraham) was a fascinating, contradictory, and frequently puzzling figure, for he was a human being.  In Genesis 12-14 alone he pretended that Sarai (his wife) was his sister, lied to the Pharaoh (who, unlike Abram, suffered because of the lie), prospered (in large part due to that lie), remained in Canaan and engaged in warfare while Lot, his nephew, moved to Sodom.  At the end of Chapter 14 Abram encountered Melchizedek, hence one reason for the reading from Hebrews 5, I suppose.

The traditional name of the reading from Luke 8 is the Parable of the Sower.  Nevertheless, the emphasis in the story is the soils, so, as some commentators I have read have argued, we should refer to the Parable of the Four Soils.  Each of us is, under the best circumstances, good soil, albeit not entirely so.  That is a fact of human nature.  Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah had serious defects of character, as did St. Paul the Apostle.  Likewise, you, O reader, and I have character flaws.  Nevertheless, may the lovely prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 be others’ prayer for us and our prayer for others.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 16, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ADALBALD OF OSTEVANT, RICTRUDIS OF MARCHIENNES, AND THEIR RELATIONS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ABRAHAM KIDUNAIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT, AND MARY OF EDESSA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ANCHORESS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/16/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-11-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Rejecting or Accepting God, Part I   1 comment

Samuel Blesses Saul Gustave Dore

Above:  Samuel Blesses Saul, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Sovereign God, you turn your greatness into goodness for all the peoples on earth.

Shape us into willing servants of your kingdom,

and make us desire always and only your will,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 8:1-18 (Monday)

1 Samuel 10:17-25 (Tuesday)

Psalm 37:23-40 (Both Days)

Hebrews 6:1-12 (Monday)

Hebrews 6:13-20 (Tuesday)

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Keep innocence and heed the thing that is right,

for that will bring you peace at the last.

–Psalm 37:38, Common Worship (2000)

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The people of Israel asked for a king.  They had one already; God (Yahweh) was their monarch.  That arrangement proved unsatisfactory to a sufficient number of people for the petition for a human king to succeed.  The prophet Samuel warned against abuses of monarchy, to no avail.  Saul became the first in a line of kings, and Samuel proved to be correct.

The request for a human king constituted a rejection of God.  Rejecting God after having accepted God is committing apostasy, or falling away from God, which is what the author of the Letter to the Hebrews warned against doing.  Committing apostasy is possible via free will; grace is not irresistible for those not predestined to Heaven.  (There goes one-fifth of TULIP, the five points of Calvinism.)  Maintaining a healthy relationship with God requires both divine grace and human free will, which exists because of the former.  Thus everything goes back to grace, not that free will ceases to be relevant.  May we use our free will to cooperate with divine grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 4, 2015 COMMON ERA

INDEPENDENCE DAY (U.S.A.)

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-proper-24-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Rest in God   1 comment

Return of the Spies from the Land of Promise Gustave Dore

Above:  Return of the Spies from the Land of Promise, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us your gift of faith,

that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to what lies ahead,

we may follow the way of your commandments

and receive the crown of everlasting joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 5:1-21 (Thursday)

Deuteronomy 5:22-33 (Friday)

Psalm 90:12-17 (Both Days)

Hebrews 3:17-19 (Thursday)

Hebrews 4:1-11 (Friday)

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FYI:  Those of you who compare and contrast versification in translations of the Bible might notice that Deuteronomy 5:1-30 in Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox versions equals 5:1-33 in Protestant translations.

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So teach us to number our days

that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

–Psalm 90:12, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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Trust and obedience to God undergird the readings for these two days.

Deuteronomy 5, which contains the Ten Commandments, concludes with these words:

Be careful, then, to do as the LORD your God has commanded you.  Do not turn aside to the right or to the left:  follow only the path that the LORD your God has enjoined upon you, so that you may thrive and that it may go well with you and that you may long endure in the land you are to possess.

–Verses 29-30, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

One had to arrive first, however.  In Numbers 14, after spies had returned from their mission to Canaan, fear and faithlessness spread through the population.

I the LORD have spoken:  Thus will I do to all that wicked band that has banded together against Me:  in this very wilderness they shall die to the last man.

–Numbers 14:35, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, who assumed that David had written Psalm 95, referred to that text:

Forty years I was provoked by that generation;

I thought, “They are a senseless people;

they would not know my ways.”

Concerning them I swore in anger,

“They shall never come to my resting-place!”

–Verses 10-11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The Promised Land is the resting-place in Psalm 95, as is one meaning of the Greek word katapausis in the readings from Hebrews.  There are two words for “rest” in them; the other refers to sabbath rest.  Katapausis has two other meanings in the Letter to the Hebrews:

  1. The rest God took after the sixth day of creation; this definition has eschatological overtones; and
  2. The peace of God.

The latter is the ultimate meaning of katapausis in the readings from Hebrews.  Entrance into the peace of God requires trust and obedience.

But what does that mean in practical terms?  Many voices compete to answer that question.  Many of them horrify me.  Those, for example, who argue that fidelity to God requires mutilating offenders and killing heretics and unbelievers appall me.  (Some of those sources quote the Bible word-for-word while ignoring inconvenient passages.)  Those who justify their violence by placing a false stamp of divine approval on it offend me.  I do not pretend to know the mind of God, for I affirm the mystery of the divine.  Yet I state clearly that one can, by considering the example of Jesus, learn much about the requirements for being a Christian.  Loving one’s neighbors as one loves oneself (presuming, of course, that one loves oneself) is part of obeying God, I affirm.

The author of Hebrews referred to Joshua, son of Nun, in 4:8.  May we who call ourselves Christians follow our Joshua–Jesus–into the peace of God.  May we lay aside the fear which leads to disobedience to and lack of trust in God.  May we, by grace, come into that divine rest and lead others to it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 3, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY THOMAS SMART, ENGLISH ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, ANGLICAN DEACONESS

THE FEAST OF IMMANUEL NITSCHMANN, GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN MINISTER AND MUSICIAN; HIS BROTHER-IN-LAW, JACOB VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN MORAVIAN BISHOP, MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND EDUCATOR; HIS SON, WILLIAM HENRY VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN BISHOP; HIS BROTHER, CARL ANTON VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND EDUCATOR; HIS DAUGHTER, LISETTE (LIZETTA) MARIA VAN VLECK MEINUNG; AND HER SISTER, AMELIA ADELAIDE VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN CENNICK, BRITISH MORAVIAN EVANGELIST AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-proper-23-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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