Archive for the ‘Hebrews 13’ Category

Sheep and Shepherds   1 comment

Good Shepherd

Above:   Christ, the Good Shepherd

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, powerful and compassionate,

you shepherd your people, faithfully feeding and protecting us.

Heal each of us, and make us a whole people,

that we may embody the justice and peace of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 42

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 50:1-7 (Monday)

Zechariah 9:14-10:2 (Tuesday)

2 Samuel 5:1-12 (Wednesday)

Psalm 100 (All Days)

Hebrews 13:17-25 (Monday)

Acts 20:17-38 (Tuesday)

Luke 15:1-7 (Wednesday)

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Shout joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;

serve the LORD with gladness;

come before him with joyful song.

Know that the LORD is God,

he made us, we belong to him,

we are his people, the flock he shepherds.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

his courts with praise.

Give thanks to him, bless his name;

good indeed is the LORD,

his faithfulness lasts through every generation.

–Psalm 100, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2010)

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All of the assigned readings for these three days speak of sheep and shepherds:

  1. God is the shepherd in Psalm 100.
  2. God is the shepherd-divine warrior who will end the Babylonian Exile in Jeremiah 50:1-7 and Zechariah 9:14-10:2.
  3. David, a troublesome character, is the shepherd-king in 2 Samuel 5:1-12.
  4. Jesus is the Good Shepherd in Luke 15:1-7.
  5. St. Paul the Apostle is the shepherd warning of “fierce wolves” in Acts 20:17-38.
  6. Faithful church leaders are the shepherds worthy of obedience in Hebrews 13:17-25.

Now I proceed to unpack some themes:

  1. The core of church doctrine, as in the question of the nature of Christ, developed over centuries, during which debates, arguments, and street brawls, and knife fights occurred in the name of sorting out proper theology.  Much of what we Christians take for granted these days came about over five centuries, give or take a few years.  Even the latest book in the New Testament did not exist until the end of the first century of the Common Era, and consensus regarding canonical status required more time to form.  In that context obeying orthodox bishops made a great deal of sense, although the definition of orthodoxy shifted over time.  Origen, for example, was orthodox in his day yet heterodox ex post facto.
  2. The parable from Luke 15:1-7 assumes a team of shepherds, so one shepherd could leave to seek a lost sheep without fear of losing more animals.
  3. That parable tells us that all people matter to Jesus.  They should, therefore, matter to us also.
  4. One metaphor for kings in the Bible is shepherds.  Some shepherds are good, but others are bad, unfortunately.  Good kings do what is best for all the people, especially the vulnerable ones.
  5. God is the best shepherd, protecting the flock, seeking an unbroken and unforgotten covenant with it, and searching for the lost sheep.  The flock can be bigger, and we can, by grace, function well as junior shepherds, subordinate to God, the senior shepherd.

I notice the community theme inherent in the metaphor of the flock.  We depend upon God, the ultimate shepherd, and upon the other shepherds in the team.  We also depend upon and bear responsibilities toward each other, for we follow the lead of others–often the lead of fellow sheep.  Sometimes this is for better, but often it is for worse.  Sticking together and following the proper leader is essential for group survival and for individual survival.

May we, by grace, recognize the voice of God, our ultimate shepherd, and follow it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 5, 2015 COMMON ERA

EASTER SUNDAY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF MILNER BALL, PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, LAW PROFESSOR, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS, AND HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT NOKTER BALBULUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/04/05/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-11-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Doing the Right Thing, Part I   2 comments

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Above:  Christ and His Apostles, 1890

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, you are the source of life and the ground of our being.

By the power of your Spirit bring healing to this wounded world,

and raise us to the new life of your Son, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 38

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The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 15:25-31; 22:1-19 (Monday)

Hosea 8:11-14; 10:1-2 (Tuesday)

Hosea 14:1-9 (Wednesday)

Psalm 40:1-8 (All Days)

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:2 (Monday)

Hebrews 13:1-16 (Tuesday)

Matthew 12:1-8 (Wednesday)

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Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,

who does not turn to the proud that follow a lie.

–Psalm 40:4, Common Worship (2000)

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Turning is of the essence.

The Kingdom of Israel was prosperous and militarily strong under King Jeroboam II. Yet all was far from well. Idolatry and economic exploitation were commonplace and the alliance with Assyria was dangerous. God, through the prophet Hosea, called the populaton to repent—to change their minds, to turn around. They did not do this, of course, and fearful consequences came to pass. Yet there was also the assurance of forgiveness.

Other assigned radings also concern unwise associations and those perceived to be thus. The lesson from Leviticus 15 demonstrates the antipathy of the Law of Moses toward female biology—in the context of ritual impurity. There were many causes of ritual impurity in that law code. Touching a corpse, coming into contact with a bodily emissions, et cetera, rendered one impure and therefore unfit to fulfill various holy functions. Not doing certain acts just so also resulted in ritual impurity, something contagious. As Jewish Bible scholar Richard Elliott Friedman wrote regarding Leviticus 15:23:

…This tells us something about the nature of impurity. It spreads throughout a person or object. And it is not any kind of creature, like bacteria. It is a pervasive condition.

Commentary on the Torah (2001), page 365

The fear of bad influences present in Hosea and Leviticus exists also in the New Testament readings. Indeed, we ought to care deeply about the nature of our peer groups and our intimate partners, for they do influence us. But we should never forget that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, scandalized respectable people by associationg with marginalized and disreputable people. The sick need a doctor, he said. If we who call ourselves Christians mean what our label indicates, how many respectable people will we offend and scandalize?

We ought also to avoid using piety (such as keeping the Sabbath in Matthew 12:1-8) as an excuse for missing the point. Human needs mater. Sometimes they prove incompatible with a form of piety which only those of a certain socio-economic status can afford to keep. And we should never use piety as an excuse not to commit a good deed, as one character in the Parable of the Good Samaritan did. If the man lying by the side of the raod had been dead, the priest would have become ritually impure by touching him. Then the cleric would have been unfit to conduct certain rites. Human needs matter more, or at least they should.

May we repent of using any excuse for not doing the right thing. May our active love for each other spread like a contagion—a good one.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 14, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS MAKEMIE, FATHER OF U.S. PRESBYTERIANISM

THE FEAST OF EDWARD HENRY BICKERSTETH, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF EXETER

THE FEAST OF JOHN ROBERTS/IEUAN GWYLLT, FOUNDER OF WELSH SINGING FESTIVALS

THE FEAST OF NGAKUKU, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-5-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Good Shepherds   1 comment

pope_francis_in_march_2013

Above:  His Holiness, Francis, Bishop of Rome

Image Source = casarosada.gob.ar via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pope_Francis_in_March_2013.jpg

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The Collect:

O God our shepherd, you know your sheep by name

and lead us to safety through the valleys of death.

Guide us by your voice, that we may walk in certainty and security

to the joyous feast prepared in your house,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 33

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 34:17-23 (23rd Day)

Ezekiel 34:23-31 (24th Day)

Jeremiah 23:1-8 (25th Day)

Psalm 100 (All Days)

1 Peter 5:1-5 (23rd Day)

Hebrews 13:20-21 (24th Day)

Matthew 20:17-28 (25th Day)

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Some Related Posts:

Ezekiel 34:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/devotion-for-january-11-and-12-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Jeremiah 23:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/advent-devotion-for-december-18/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/proper-11-year-b/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/devotion-for-november-10-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/proper-29-year-c/

1 Peter 5:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/devotion-for-december-3-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Hebrews 13:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/week-of-4-epiphany-saturday-year-1/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/devotion-for-the-seventh-day-of-easter-saturday-in-easter-week-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Matthew 20:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/thirteenth-day-of-lent/

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Know this:  The LORD alone is God;

we belong to the LORD, who made us,

we are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture.

–Psalm 100:2, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Sometimes the timing of the writing of these devotions astounds me.  I refer not to the fact that I drafted this post on December 9, 2013, or the reality that I am typing it on December 16, 2013.  No, that is typical of my pattern of writing ahead of schedule.  No, I mean the juxtaposition of current events in December 2013 to the content of the assigned readings.  Pope Francis has condemned unbridled capitalism (note the adjective “unbridled”) and supply-side (“trickle-down”) economics as immoral, triggering an avalanche of criticisms of him and his remarks.  Talk radio and Fox News Channel personalities are beside themselves.  The Holy Father is a Marxist, Rush Limbaugh says.  (Francis is not a Marxist.)  He has condemned an entire economic system, some say.  (The Holy Father has condemned what George H. W. Bush called “Voodoo economics” in 1980 and a culture of greed.)  But why let objective reality get in the way of a tantrum?  Pope Francis is standing in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus, a good thing for a Pontiff to do.  All of this, in combination with the lections, reminds me of the thoughts of the late Bishop Bennett J. Sims (died in 2006) on leadership.  He favored servant leadership, that which builds up others and does not seek to control them.  This was his idea of business ethics and good government.

God will replace the predatory shepherds of Ezekiel 34:1-16 with good shepherds, the rest of that chapter says.  The sheep will benefit from the change.  1 Peter 5:1-5 encourages humility as a guide in dealing with others.  And we who follow Jesus are the sheep of his flock.  He is the Good Shepherd of a famous parable.  In his kingdom the servants are the greatest, the meek will inherit the earth, the grieving will receive comfort, the hungry will have their fill, and the poor will inherit the kingdom.  There is no artificial scarcity in God’s economics; no, there is enough for everyone to fill every need.

The facts that our world is not that reality and that the Pope’s words have sparked such an outcry indicate deeply ingrained sinfulness–spiritual blindness–especially of the type which seems leftover from reactionary Cold War politics.  Yet the prophetic words of God and of God’s servants regarding economics and human dignity stand as condemnations of those who disagree with them.  So be it.  That might open the door for repentance and conversion, the preferable subsequent course of action.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 16, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE SIXTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF GUSTAF AULEN, SWEDISH LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ADELAIDE, HOLY ROMAN EMPRESS

THE FEAST OF MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/devotion-for-the-twenty-third-twenty-fourth-and-twenty-fifth-days-of-easter-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Duties to God and Each Other   1 comment

christ-pantocrator-moody

Above:  Christ Pantocrator, Daphni, Greece

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 2:4-13 and Psalm 81:1, 10-16

or 

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 10:12-18 or Proverbs 25:6-7 and Psalm 112

then 

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Luke 14:1, 7-14

The Collect:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Proper 17, Year A:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/proper-17-year-a/

Proper 17, Year B:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/proper-17-year-b-3/

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Confession:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/prayer-of-confession-for-the-fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Jeremiah 2:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/week-of-proper-11-thursday-year-2/

Proverbs 25:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/devotion-for-june-21-and-22-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Hebrews 13:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/08/week-of-4-epiphany-friday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/week-of-4-epiphany-saturday-year-1/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/devotion-for-the-seventh-day-of-easter-saturday-in-easter-week-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Luke 14:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/devotion-for-the-thirty-fourth-and-thirty-fifth-days-of-easter-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/week-of-proper-25-friday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/week-of-proper-25-saturday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/week-of-proper-26-monday-year-1/

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Let mutual love continue.

–Hebrews 13:1, New Revised Standard Version

Thus I find my theme for this post.  That theme unites the assigned readings for Proper 17, Year C.  The rest of the Hebrews lection speaks of our obligations to God and each other.  These duties exist in the context of mutual love.

I am, among other things, intellectually honest.  The readings from Jeremiah 2, Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 10, and Psalm 81 speak of divine judgment for faithlessness among people for God has done much.  These lections do not seem loving.  And Psalm 112 sounds too much like Prosperity Theology for my comfort.  I can think of parts of both Testaments which contradict it.  If you, O reader, expect me to provide simple answers to these, I will disappoint you.  I could provide such answers, but I would do so insincerely and they would be useless.

I write these words during Advent 2012.  (I like to write ahead of schedule.)  During this time the words attributed to Hannah in 1 Samuel 2 and Mary in Luke 1 ring in my head.

The LORD makes poor and makes rich,

he brings low, he also exalts.

He raises up the poor from the dust;

he lifts up the needy from the ash heap,

to make them sit with princes

and inherit a seat of great honor.

–1 Samuel 2:7-8a, New Revised Standard Version

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He has routed the proud and all their schemes;

he has brought down monarchs from their thrones,

and raised high the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich empty away.

–Luke 1:51b-53, Revised English Bible

Those beloved passages are consistent with Jeremiah 2, Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 10, and Psalm 81.  Whether this reversal of fortune is good news depends on who one is.

The context for this reversal of fortune is faithlessness to God, who has done much for us.  It is polite to be grateful to one who delivers, is it not?  So attitudes occupy the heart of the matter.  And we cannot love God, whom we cannot see, unless we love people, whom we can see.  Our deeds will reveal our creeds.  That much I know for certain.  As for the rest, ask God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARIA STEWART, EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB, FOUNDER OF SAVE THE CHILDREN

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

THE FEAST OF SAINT OLYMPIAS, ORTHODOX DEACONESS

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/proper-17-year-c/

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Exodus and Hebrews, Part XIV: Following Jesus   2 comments

moravian-logo-stained-glass

Above:  Logo of the Moravian Church

Image Source = JJackman

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:AgnusDeiWindow.jpg)

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

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

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

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 19:1-25

Psalm 92 (Morning)

Psalms 23 and 114 (Evening)

Hebrews 13:1-21

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Some Related Posts:

Exodus 19:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/proper-6-year-a/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/week-of-proper-11-thursday-year-1/

Hebrews 13:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/08/week-of-4-epiphany-friday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/week-of-4-epiphany-saturday-year-1/

Prayer:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/02/27/prayer-for-saturday-of-easter-week/

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I have heard press reports of the Vatican cracking down on liberal dissenters for years.  This is the sort of news that makes me glad to be an Episcopalian, for we have distributed authority.  And, as a self-respecting liberal, I identify with the denominational establishment more often than not.  Many Roman Catholic dissidents would occupy the Episcopal Church’s mainstream if they were to leave the Roman Church for the Anglican Communion.

I thought about that as I read Hebrews 13:17, which, in The New Jerusalem Bible, begins

Obey your leaders and give way to them….

Context matters.  The dominant theme in Hebrews 13 is looking out for each other, including strangers.  So a good religious leader is one who looks out for the flock.  When I turn to historical context I note that the audience consisted of persecuted Christians and Christians who might face persecution.  So sticking together was vital for the church.  Nevertheless, as one who grew up feeling out of place in the denomination in which he grew up (The United Methodist Church) and feeling alienated from the adjacent and dominant Southern Baptist subculture in rural southern Georgia, I reserve the right to identify with dissenters when I agree with them.  I also reserve the right to identify with the establishment when I agree with it.  I know that all of the following statements are accurate:

  1. I can be wrong.
  2. I can be correct.
  3. Bishops can be wrong.
  4. Bishops can be correct.
  5. Both sides can be wrong, just about different matters.
  6. Both sides can be correct, just about different matters.

The ultimate Christian leader is Jesus of Nazareth; may we follow him always.

Moses was the leader in the Book of Exodus.  He was, unfortunately, not immune from mysogyny, hence his instruction

…do not go near a woman

–Exodus 19:15b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

in relation to maintaining the ritual purity of men.  (The Law of Moses does cast female biology in a negative light, does it not?)  But it was generally good advice to do as Moses said; God spoke to him.  And Moses was trying to do the best he could for the people.  Leading a group of mostly quarrelsome nomads in the desert was not an easy task or vocation.

Issues of human authority and submission to it occur elsewhere in the Bible.  Paul wrote that we should obey our leaders, but Hebrew Prophets, speaking for God, opposed kings in their day.  I have no doubt that one reason the Romans crucified Jesus was that his rhetoric regarding the Kingdom of God called the imperium into question; the Kingdom of God looked like the opposite of the imperial order.  And our Lord and Savior clashed with his religious leaders.  So prooftexting one or two passages regarding this issue distorts the biblical witness on it.

I am a Christian who grew up a Protestant.  (Now I identify as an Anglo-Lutheran-Catholic within The Episcopal Church.) Much of that Protestant rebelliousness remains within me, although I have mixed it with Roman Catholicism.  So I stand with the Moravians, whose motto is

OUR LAMB HAS CONQUERED; LET US FOLLOW HIM.

May we follow him wherever he leads us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MORAND OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LIPHARDUS OF ORLEANS AND URBICIUS OF MEUNG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF UGANDA

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/devotion-for-the-seventh-day-of-easter-saturday-in-easter-week-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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God is with the Righteous (Even When Appearances Seem to Indicate Otherwise)   1 comment

Above:  The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, by Caravaggio, 1608

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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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Hebrews 13:1-8 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

Let brotherly love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.  Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body.  Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous.  Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never fail you or forsake you.”  Hence we can confidently say,

The Lord is my helper,

I will not be afraid;

what can man do to me?

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.

Psalm 27:1-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

The LORD is my light and my salvation;

whom then shall I fear?

the LORD is the strength of my life;

of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh,

it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who stumbled and fell.

Though an army should encamp against me,

yet my heart shall not be afraid;

And though war should rise up against me,

yet will I put my trust in him.

One thing I asked of the LORD;

one thing I seek;

that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life;

To behold the fair beauty of the LORD

and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter;

he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling

and set me high upon a rock.

8 Even now he lifts up my head

above my enemies round about me.

Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation with sounds of great gladness;

I will sing and make music to the LORD.

10 Hearken to my voice, O LORD, when I call;

have mercy on me and answer me.

11 You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.”

Your face, LORD, will I seek.

12 Hide not your face from me,

nor turn away your servant in displeasure.

13 You have been my helper;

cast me not away;

do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.

Mark 6:14-29 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known.  Some said,

John the Baptist has been raised from the dead; that is why these powers are at work in him.

But others said,

It is Elijah.

And others said,

It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.

But when Herod heard of it he said,

John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.

For Herod had sent and seized John, and bound him for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife.  And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him.  But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe.  When he heard him, he was much perplexed; and yet he heard him gladly.  But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and the leading men of Galilee.  For when Herodias’ daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl,

Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it.

And he vowed to her,

Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.

And she went out, and said to her mother,

What shall I ask?

And she said,

The head of John the Baptist.

And she came in immediately with haste to the king, and asked, saying,

I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

And the king was exceedingly sorry; but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her.  And immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard and gave orders to bring his head.  He went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother.  When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

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The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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A link to my thoughts for the Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist (August 29):  

http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2010/06/13/feast-of-the-beheading-of-st-john-the-baptist-martyr-august-29/

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The reading from Hebrews is pleasant enough.  It contains sage advice on how we can live together harmoniously in society before it makes the famous statement about the unchanging nature of Christ.  The portion of the psalm is pleasant, also, reinforcing the excerpt from Hebrews.

Then we arrive at the Gospel reading, which tells of disturbing events.  The author of Mark has framed the execution of St. John the Baptist as a flashback.  The present day of the reading has Herod Antipas, the Roman client ruler of the Galilee, hearing about the wonders of Jesus and thinking that St. John the Baptist, whom he has had killed, has risen from the dead.  The flashback part of the story tells of how Herod Antipas had married Herodias, the niece of his late half-brother, Alexander, and former wife of his brother, Philip Herod I.  (Think then, what that makes Salome, the daughter of Herodias, in relation to Herod Antipas, other than daughter-in-law.)  St. John the Baptist is in prison for speaking the truth, which is that this marriage is incestuous.  Herodias is spiteful and capable of murder; Herod Antipas, who leers erotically at Salome’s dancing, is more concerned with notions of public honor than sparing a life; and Salome seems to be a willing pawn in her mother’s plot.

I wonder how much better events would have played out had Herodias, Salome, and Herod Antipas lived in accordance with the advice in Hebrews 13:1-8.  That text did not exist at the time, but the principles did.

The text of Psalm 27 says that God protects the faithful, but St. John the Baptist died the way he did.  What are we supposed to make of this?  The theology in some of the psalms is overly simplistic, if not optimistic, in places:  God will protect the faithful, the righteous will prosper, and the evil will meet their doom.  But have you looked around the world recently or read history?  Liars and cheaters win, courts convict both the innocent and the guilty, both the righteous and the unrighteous prosper and stumble, and dictators execute political prisoners.  Perhaps the most generous assessment of some of the theology of Psalms (and Proverbs) is that it is true in the long term, perhaps even the afterlife.

Back in this life, meanwhile, evil wins much of the time.

But, as Voltaire wrote,

Man is free at the moment he wishes to be.

Consider the cases of jailed civil rights activists in the Deep South of the United States in the 1960s.  These were nonviolent people who challenged the racial status quo.  For their troubles local authorities arrested and jailed them.  Without resorting to unpleasant and graphic details, I assure you, O reader, that Southern jails, especially in Mississippi, were hellholes and places where guards delighted in humiliating these brave men and women.  Yet faith lifted the spirits of these incarcerated activists.  Many prisoners sang so much and so happily that they irritated and angered those who had jailed them.  They were incarcerated, yet they were free because they chose to be free and because they tapped into their deep faith.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has retired recently from public life, tells the story of a Nazi guard and a Jew during the Holocaust.  The guard was forcing the Jew to clean an especially disgusting toilet.

Where is your God now?

the guard asked the Jew.

With me in the muck,

the Jew replied.

Where was God when St. John the Baptist was languishing in prison and as he died?  God was with the saint.  And where was God when the guards raped and humiliated civil rights activists during the 1960s?  God was with the activists.  Jesus said that many would suffer for the sake of righteousness, but that they would not be alone.  This promise holds true today, despite any appearances to the contrary.

Here ends the lesson.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 8, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BRIDGET OF SWEDEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF ERIK ROUTLEY, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM DWIGHT PORTER BLISS, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, AND RICHARD THEODORE ELY, ECONOMIST

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/08/week-of-4-epiphany-friday-year-1/

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