Archive for the ‘Hebrews 4’ Category

Judgment and Mercy, Part XIX   Leave a comment

Above:  The Poor, the Lame, and the Blind Called Into the Supper

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, 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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Lord, we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand

the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil;

and with pure hearts and minds to follow thee, the only true God;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 216

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Ezekiel 37:15-28

Psalm 101

Hebrews 4:9-13 and Ephesians 4:1-6

Luke 14:15-33

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Divine justice may seem unrecognizable to many of us much of the time.  Divine justice/righteousness comes bound up with judgment and mercy.  We can hide nothing from God, and divine judgment is frequently permitting our proverbial chickens to roost.  We may, like the author of Psalm 101, favor

destroying the wicked in the land

or something like that, but such a decision belongs with God, not any mere mortal.  God may choose to forgive and restore, for all we know.  Our proper human response is to care for each other to be humble before God and each other.

The Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-33) requires attention.  The host represents God.  The host properly takes offense at disrespectful excuses from people who had accepted invitations.  The host, true to the Lukan theme of reversal of fortune, invites the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame–powerless, marginalized people.  Then the host, still having room, invites Gentiles.

R. Alan Culpepper, writing about this parable in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX (1995), quoted T. W. Manson, The Sayings of Jesus (1957), 130:

The two essential points in His teaching are that no man can enter the Kingdom without the invitation of God, and that no man can remain outside it but by his own deliberate choice.

We make our decisions, after all.  Grace is extravagant and free yet not cheap.  Awe, respect, and gratitude for grace should compel one to accept it and to permit it to transform one’s life.  One ought to accept the invitation to the great banquet of God and never offer excuses.  Yet one is free to reject the invitation and to offer excuses.  God sends no person to Hell.  All who are present in Hell condemned themselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 28, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAROSLAV VAJDA, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOZEF CEBULA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1941

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAMPHILIUS OF SULMONA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP AND ALMSGIVER

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CHANEL, PROTOMARTYR OF OCEANIA, 1841

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM STRINGFELLOW, EPISCOPAL ATTORNEY, THEOLOGIAN, AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST

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God, the Only Proper Center   1 comment

Above:  Jezebel and Ahab, by Frederic Leighton

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 33:12-23 or 1 Kings 21:1-24

Psalm 61:1-5, 8

Hebrews 4:14-5:5, 7-9

Mark 9:14-29

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According to Psalms 14 and 53, the fool/benighted man, an amoral person, thinks incorrectly that God either does not care (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures, 1985) or is absent (Mitchell J. Dahood, 1968).  The erroneous assumption of the fool/benighted man is that God either does not want to answer prayers or cannot do so.  Therefore, from that perspective, one must and can rely on one’s own powers and devices.  This is the root of evil.

God does care.  God is present.  God does answer prayers.  Sometimes the answer is “no,” which we may not like.  God loves us, but is not our vending machine.

St. Augustine of Hippo wrote,

We pray that we may believe and believe that we may pray.

We can simultaneously have faith and doubts.  I know this spiritual state.  Perhaps you do, too, O reader.  We can have enough faith to pray yet not enough to assume that God will answer as we desire.  To anyone who knows this spiritual state, I say,

Welcome to the human race.  You stand in the company of the communion of saints.

When we cannot pray, or be mindful of God, yet want to do so, we are not bereft.  That desire is a solid beginning, a foundation on which God can build.

We err when we place ourselves–individually and/or collectively–in the center of theology and spirituality.  God is the only proper center.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 25, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES BAR-ZEBEDEE, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2019/07/25/devotion-for-proper-21-year-b-humes/

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Signs, Part II   2 comments

Above:  Elijah in the Wilderness, by Washington Allston

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 32:1-14 or 1 Kings 19:1-15

Psalm 59:1-5, 16-17

Hebrews 4:1-13

Mark 8:22-33

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Yahweh, God of Hosts, God of Israel!

Awake to punish all the nations,

show no mercy to wicked traitors.

–Psalm 59:6, Mitchell J. Dahood (1968)

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That attitude is consistent with God’s Plan A in Exodus 32, after the idolatry and apostasy at the base of the mountain.  Aaron’s poor excuse still makes me laugh, though.

So I said to them, “Whoever has gold, take it off!  They gave it to me and I hurled it into the fire and out came this calf!

–Exodus 32:24, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Exodus and Mark contain stories of dramatic, powerful encounters with God.  We read of visual and tactile experiences. We also read of short-lived faithfulness, of much grumbling, of obliviousness, of recognition followed by official denial, and of fidelity.

The juxtaposition of the formerly blind man (Mark 8:22-26) and the obliviousness of St. Simon Peter (Mark 8:32-33) highlights the spiritual blindness of the latter man.  The stories also challenge us to ponder our spiritual blindness.

Even Elijah, who had recently confronted the prophets of Baal Peor then presided over their slaughter (1 Kings 18), had to deal with his spiritual blindness.  While hiding from Queen Jezebel and feeling sorry for himself, he encountered God, who, in that context, revealed self not in dramatic ways (as Baal Peor would have done), but in a still, small voice, or, as The New Jerusalem Bible (1985) renders the text,

a light murmuring sound.

Do we fail to notice messages from God because we seek dramatic signs?

Sometimes, in the Gospels, one reads of Jesus performing a miracle, followed by people demanding a sigh.  One’s jaw should drop.  One should seek God for the correct reasons and not become attached to dramatic signs.  God whispers sometimes.  God whispers to us, to those similar to us, and to those quite different from us.  God judges and forgives.  Signs are abundant.  How many do we notice?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 25, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES BAR-ZEBEDEE, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2019/07/25/devotion-for-proper-20-year-b-humes/

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The Universality of God, Part II   1 comment

Candle

Above:  A Candle

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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Joshua 23:1-16

Psalm 81:(1) 2-9 (10-16) or Psalm 95

Luke 3:23-38 or Matthew 1:1-17

Hebrews 4:1-11 (12-16)

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In distress you called, and I rescued you;

I answered you in the secret place of thunder;

I tested you at the waters of Meribah.

–Psalm 81:7, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Do not harden your hears, as at Meribah,

as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

when your ancestors tested me,

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

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

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The Deuteronomistic account of the farewell speech of Joshua son of Nun contains reminders to be faithful to God and not to emulate the pagan neighboring ethnic groups.  One may assume safely that at least part of the text is a subsequent invention meant to teach then-contemporary Jews to obey the Law of Moses, unlike many of their ancestors, including many who lived and died after the time of Joshua.  The theme of fidelity to God recurs in Hebrews 4, which reminds us that God sees everything we do.

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid:  Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and magnify your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–The Collect for Purity, in The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 355

The two options for Gospel readings are mutually inconsistent genealogies of Jesus.  Matthew 1, following Jewish practice, divides the past into periods of 14–in this case, 14 generations–14 being the numerical value of “David” in Hebrew.  This version of the family tree begins with Abraham and ends with Jesus, thereby setting his story in the context of God’s acts in history and culminating with the Incarnation.  This genealogy lists only four women, two of whom were foreigners and three of whom were the subjects of gossip regarding their sex lives.  These facts establish an inclusive tone in the text.

The genealogy in Luke 3 starts with Jesus and works backward to the mythical Adam.  The fact that the family tree according to the Gospel of Luke goes back past Abraham (the limits of Judaism, which are porous in the genealogy in Matthew 1) makes the Lukan version more inclusive than its counterpart in Matthew.  Jesus has kinship with all people–Jews and Gentiles–it teaches.  That is consistent with the fact that the initial audience for the Gospel of Luke was Gentile.

The universality of God is a recurring theme in the Bible.  The light of God is for all people, although many will reject it at any given time.  The neglect that light is a grave error, one which carries with it many negative consequences, both temporal and otherwise.  To write off people and populations is another error.  Salvation is of the Jews.  From them the light of Christ shines upon we Gentiles.  Thanks be to God!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 21, 2016 COMMON ERA

PROPER 16:  THE FOURTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF JOHN ATHELSTAN LAURIE RILEY, ANGLICAN ECUMENIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/08/21/devotion-for-the-third-sunday-of-advent-year-d/

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Compassion and the Sabbath, Part II   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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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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Fleeing from Grace   1 comment

Christ Pantocrator

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, rich in mercy, by the humiliation of your Son

you lifted up this fallen world and rescued us from the hopelessness of death.

Lead us into your light, that all our deeds may reflect your love,

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 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 30:15-18 (Thursday)

Exodus 30:1-10 (Friday)

Habakkuk 3:2-13 (Saturday)

Psalm 107:1-16 (All Days)

Hebrews 4:1-13 (Thursday)

Hebrews 4:14-5:4 (Friday)

John 12:1-11 (Saturday)

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Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;

in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

Wash me through and through from my wickedness

and cleanse me from my sin.

–Psalm 51:1-2, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Through all generations you have made yourself known,

and in your wrath you did not forget mercy.

–Habakkuk 3:2b, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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For thus said my Lord GOD,

The Holy One of Israel,

“You shall triumph by stillness and quiet;

Your victory shall come about

Through calm and confidence.”

But you refused.

“No,” you declared.

“We shall flee on our steeds”–

Therefore you shall flee!

“We shall ride on swift mounts”–

Therefore your pursuers shall prove swift!

One thousand before the shout of one–

You shall flee at the shout of five;

Till what is left of you

Is like a mast on a hilltop,

Like a pole upon a mountain.

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Truly, the LORD is waiting to show you grace,

Truly, He will arise to pardon you.

For the LORD is a God of justice;

Happy are all who wait for Him.

–Isaiah 30:15-18, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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The concept of God changes between the covers of the Bible.  God is physically immediate to Abraham, for example, yet proximity to God is fatal in much of the Hebrew Scriptures.    Even touching the Ark of the Covenant accidentally proved fatal, according to the texts.  There was no fatal holiness in Jesus, however; St. Mary of Bethany anointed him in John 12:1-11, shortly before the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.

So we can draw near to God, who has drawn close to us and become incarnate (however that worked) as one of us.  The theological point of the full humanity anddivinity of Jesus is one of those difficult knots great minds have tried to understand.  (For details, consult a history of Christian theology.)  I will not tread in their steps here except to assert that one ought to seek a balance between the humanity and the divinity of Jesus; one should not emphasize one at the expense of the other.  My experience in congregations (especially during my formative years) has been that people have usually been more comfortable with the divinity of Christ than with his humanity.  They have committed the heresy of Apollinarianism, or acknowledging his humanity while giving short shrift to it.

If attempting to untangle the mysteries of the Incarnation and of the nature(s) and will(s) of Christ proves insufficiently challenging, what about the balance between divine judgment and mercy?  I can provide a partial answer; the rest I am content to leave as a mystery.  Some things we do to ourselves, so we suffer the consequences of our actions.  Forgiveness of sins does not remove those consequences in this realm of existence, however.  Also, sometimes good news for the oppressed is catastrophic news for oppressors who refuse to change their ways.  That is the way life works.  In addition, some divine judgment is discipline meant to prompt repentance.  In such cases the metaphor of God as parent works well.  In some circumstances (especially from the Hebrew Scriptures) I refuse to affirm the argument that God has commanded people to commit genocide and other atrocities.  Maybe those who committed those deeds thought they were fulfilling a divine mandate, but they were wrong.  Against which population would Jesus commit or condone genocide?

Often we seek to use theology to justify our sins when we ought to confess and repent of those offenses.  Frequently we seek not God–in the context of whose holiness our sinfulness becomes evident–but confirmation of our imagined righteousness.  We flee from God, so we doom ourselves to face certain consequences.  We run away from God, who waits to show us mercy.  Maybe doing that is easier than facing the reality of our spiritual lives.  If that is true, this statement is a sad one.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 15, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE SIXTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF THOMAS BENSON POLLOCK, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PROXMIRE, UNITED STATES SENATOR

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-the-fifth-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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