Archive for the ‘James 1’ Category

Good Religion and Bad Religion   Leave a comment

Above:  Neighbors Sign, Athens, Georgia, October 12, 2017

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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Nobody must imagine that he is religious while he still goes on deceiving himself and not keeping control over his tongue; anyone who does this has the wrong idea of religion.  Pure, unspoiled religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this:  coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.

–James 1:26-27, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

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Theoretical arguments are marginally interesting to me, for I value the verdict of tangible results.  I, as a student of history-or religious and civil rights history in particular–know that innocuous-sounding slogans and talking points can conceal institutional immorality.

Local solutions to local problems,

for example, was, during many political campaigns of 1970 in the U.S. South an affirmation of de jure segregation of public schools (about to end), not of federalism per se.

During the last few days I have been immersing myself in the lives of saints, drafting 28 hagiographies (for July 21-August 13) in preparation for a few days of intensive blogging at SUNDRY THOUGHTS, the parent of this weblog.  Certain saints have lingered in my thoughts.  When Clarence Jordan (1912-1969) grew up in Talbotton, Georgia, he wondered how many church-going people could support Jim Crow laws.  Jordan (pronounced JER-dun) grew up to become a radical figure–a pacifist and a supporter of racial integration–in reactionary southwestern rural Georgia.  St. Dominic (c. 1170-1221), founder of the Order of Preachers, also known as the Dominicans and the Black Friars, eagerly preached orthodoxy in the face of heresy while he deplored the Church’s use of violence against heretics.  Correct methods were essential to success, he said.

The relationship between one’s attitudes and one’s religion can be complicated.  Yes, one who is unapologetically bigoted might gravitate toward a racist, xenophobic, dare I say it–deplorable–theology.  And yes, one who is progressive might choose a liberal theology.  Nevertheless, one should not underestimate the power of religion to transform a person for good or for ill.  You, O reader, probably know or have known someone with whom you could get along easily before he or she had a conversion experience.  Likewise, religion can also make one one charitable in spirit and in deeds.

Staying true to my standard of tangible results, I assert that good religion makes one a better person–a loving, generally tolerant human being.  Good religion does not lead one to deny any person his or her basic human rights.  Good religion flows from the selfless, unconditional love of God.  Good religion makes one an agent of that love.  Good religion encourages decency.

I admit freely to the role of my background in formulating these thoughts.  I recall living in Alapaha, Georgia, from June 1989 to June 1991, when my father was the pastor of the Alapaha United Methodist Church in town and the Glory United Methodist Church a few miles outside of town.  One of our neighbors, as well as a parishioner, I remember, was Henry, an older man.  I cannot forget the day I overheard Henry announce that he was about to perform some “Afro-American engineering,” an undisguised racist term he used in lieu of the even more offensive “nigger rigging.”  I remember feeling uncomfortable as I heard those words and knowing that Henry should have known better.  I know, based on clear memories, that Henry was no outlier.

I, as a historian, understand that context matters greatly.  I, as a historian who, in academic writing, has quoted offensive statements, many of them containing slurs, grasp that the only morally acceptable way  to repeat some language is to quote it while making clear that I disapprove of the content of that quote.  I also know that Henry was not quoting.

Good religion does not make excuses for any prejudice directed at a human being or any population.  No, good religion recognizes the image of God in others.  Good religion follows a consistent ethic of divine love, regardless of where on the political spectrum that love places one.  Besides, terms such as liberal, conservative, reactionary, and revolutionary are inherently relative, having no fixed, timeless meaning with regard to policy proposals.

I, as a Christian, point to Jesus as the embodiment of good religion.  If I were to do otherwise, I would have only a pretense of a legitimate claim to call myself a Christian.  I recognize Jesus in his historical, socio-political-economic, and religious contexts as a figure still radical by contemporary standards, even in much of organized Christianity.

Good religion is a high calling–seemingly an impossible standard.  It is an impossible standard, relying on human strengths.  It is possible only via grace.  Each of us falls short of good religion in its fullness, and always will on this side of Heaven.  By grace we can do better, though.  May we do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 9, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT COLUMBA OF IONA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY AND ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT GIOVANNI MARIA BOCCARDO, FOUNDER OF THE POOR SISTERS OF SAINT CAJETAN/GAETANO; AND HIS BROTHER, SAINT LUIGI BOCCARDO, “APOSTLE OF MERCIFUL LOVE”

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSÉ DE ANCHIETA, APOSTLE OF BRAZIL AND FATHER OF BRAZILIAN NATIONAL LITERATURE

THE FEAST OF THOMAS JOSEPH POTTER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

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Sins of Omission, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  The Widow’s Mite, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being:

We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit that in all the

cares and occupations of our daily life we may remember that we are ever walking in your sight;

for your name’s sake.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 154

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Ezekiel 18:23-32

Psalm 38

James 1:17-27

Luke 21:1-4

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Responsibility comes in two varieties–collective and individual.  My Western culture emphasizes the latter, frequently to the exclusion or minimization of the former.  Other cultures commit the opposite errors.  A balance is proper.

The theme of individual responsibility is present.  Ezekiel 18 (as well as 3:16-21; 14:12-23; and 33:1-20) argues against the theology of Exodus 20:5 and Deuteronomy 5:9, whereby God holds members of subsequent generations accountable for one’s sins.  Yes, one’s life can have consequences for members of subsequent generations.  I can, for example, identify how two of my great-grandfathers on my father’s side influence me, for good and ill.  I am not responsible for their sins, however.  I am, of course, responsible for my own.

The theme of collective responsibility is also present.  In Luke 21:21:1-4 we read the story of the widow’s mite.  If we read immediately before and after it also, however, we find context.  In Luke 20:45-57 Jesus denounces those scribes who “devout widows’ houses” while seeking and enjoying social status, as well as maintaining the appearance of piety.  Then we read of a devout and impoverished widow donating money she cannot spare to the Temple.  Next, in 21:5, Jesus predicts the destruction of that Temple.  A progression is evident.

We are responsible for what we do in groups as well as by ourselves.  We are also responsible for sins of omission.  May we, by grace, care effectively for each other, individually and collectively, and never “devour widows’ houses” or stand by idly and silently while that happens, when we have an opportunity to say or do something to protest, if not to protect the exploited.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 11, 2018 COMMON ERA

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

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

THE FEAST OF MIEP GIES, RIGHTEOUS GENTILE

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF AQUILEIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCH

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Lead Us Not Into Temptation   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Lord’s Prayer

Image in the Public Domain

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And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.  Amen.

–Matthew 6:13, Authorized Version

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…et ne nos indicas in temptatiónem; sed libera nos a malo.

…and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

–from The Roman Missal (2010)

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It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.  I am the one who falls.  It’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen.  A father doesn’t do that; a father helps you get up immediately.  It’s Satan who leads us into temptation; that’s his department.

–Pope Francis, December 2017

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The Holy Father is correct.

James 1:13-15 agrees with him:

Never, when you are being put to the test, say, “God is tempting me;”  God cannot be tempted by evil, and he does not put anybody to the test.  Everyone is put to the test by being attracted and seduced by that person’s own wrong desire.  Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and when sin reaches full growth, it gives birth to death.

The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

Translations (mostly Roman Catholic ones, on purpose, in this post) of Matthew 6:13, with its two lines, fall into several categories.  As for the first line, many translations (including the Rheims-Challoner New Testament, 1582/1749-1752; the Confraternity Version, 1941; and the Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Version, 2002), ask that God not lead one into temptation.  The Jerusalem Bible (1966) and The New Jerusalem Bible (1985) are some of the translations in which one asks,

And do not put us to the test.

In The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) we read,

…and do not subject us to the final test,

but deliver us from the evil one.

Similar to that translation are versions in which one asks for deliverance

from the time of trial,

as in The Book of Common Prayer (1979), which also provides the option of praying

And lead us not into temptation,

in the traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer.  The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) also falls into the category of asking for deliverance from “the evil one,” not from “evil.”

My reading of commentaries has revealed a narrow range of interpretations of Matthew 6:13.  There is a consensus that (1) God does not tempt anyone, per James 1:13-15; and (2) the second petition should be for deliverance from “the evil one,” not generalized evil.  The main differences relate to the interpretation of what the first petition means.  One camp argues that it is simply a request for God to remove temptation or for the ability to resist temptation in the here and now.  Douglas R. A. Hare, author of the 1993 commentary on the Gospel of Matthew for the Interpretation series, suggests a translation:

Grant me strength to resist temptation.

–Page 70

He stands in line with Sherman E. Johnson, writing in Volume VII (1951) of The Interpreter’s Bible:

The word rendered temptation might mean “trial” or “persecution,” but the petition is usually taken as a request that God will remove occasions of sin or the evil impulse which usually prompts sin.  God’s omnipotence and providence are, as always, assumed; but there is no reflection on the question raised by Jas. 1:13-14, “Does God tempt man?”

–Page 314

Another school of thought holds that the passage has an eschatological and apocalyptic tone, that the “time of testing” of “final test” will happen prior to the return of the Messiah, during the “Messianic woes.”  The first petition thereby becomes a request that God will spare the faithful from those persecutions.  W.D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, writing in Matthew:  A Shorter Commentary (2004), agree with this interpretation:

All temptation belongs to the latter days.

–Page 95

M. Eugene Boring, writing in Volume VIII (1995) of The New Interpreter’s Bible, agrees with this conclusion.

Eschatology permeates the Gospel of Matthew in general and the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in particular.  This fact embarrasses many people; that is their problem.  The eschatological nature of the Gospel of Matthew does not embarrass me–not anymore.  Jonathan T. Pennington, author of Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew (2007), his published dissertation, notes that the Gospel of Matthew uses “Kingdom of God” just four times and “God” fifty-one times.  Pennington, who analyzes the different uses of “Heaven” in the Gospel of Matthew, pushes back against the consensus that “Kingdom of Heaven” is a reverential circumlocution.  He insists that “Kingdom of Heaven” is usually an apocalyptic term for God’s physical kingdom on the Earth.  Pennington does write, after all, of the frequent contrasts between Heaven and earth in the Gospel of Matthew.

The eschatological reading of the first petition in Matthew 6:13 is correct, at least ultimately.  In the meantime, to pray for strength to resist temptation is proper, as is asking God to remove temptations.  We are weak creatures, “but dust” (Psalm 103:14).  As a cocktail napkin I recall reads,

LEAD ME NOT INTO TEMPTATION.  I CAN FIND MY OWN WAY.

We can avoid that path much of the time, by grace, fortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 19, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE SEVENTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF RAOUL WALLENBERG, RIGHTEOUS GENTILE

THE FEAST OF CHICO MENDES, “GANDHI OF THE AMAZON”

THE FEAST OF ROBERT CAMPBELL, SCOTTISH EPISCOPALIAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC SOCIAL ADVOCATE AND HYMN WRITER

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The Light of God   1 comment

Above:   Candle Flame

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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Ecclesiastes 1:3-11

Psalm 119:145-152

James 1:2-11

John 10:31-42

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Much of life consists of familiar and transitory details.  They are familiar because they are similar to what has come before.  Since we they are transient, we ought not to become too attached to them.  Yet we do.  They become idols and psychological crutches.  Possessions will eventually cease to belong to us, even as we belong to them.  They might have value, but the crucial issue is perspective.  That which has the greatest value is intangible–is God.  Relationships also have great value, but they are also temporary, unlike God.

One might deepen a relationship with God during times of hardship, perhaps oppression or merely being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  God is always with us, but we are more receptive on certain occasions than on others.  It is also possible that the greater the need, the greater the grace.  Either way, the light of God seems brighter at night than in broad daylight.  That reality is itself a manifestation of grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 20, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF BERNARD ADAM GRUBE, GERMAN-AMERICAN MINISTER, MISSIONARY, COMPOSER, AND MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT BAIN OF FONTANELLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP, MONK, MISSIONARY, AND ABBOT

THE FEAST OF JOHANN FRIEDRICH HERTZOG, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2017/06/20/devotion-for-proper-24-ackerman/

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Idolatry and Social Justice   1 comment

Above:  Jeremiah, by Lorenzo Monaco

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:

Jeremiah 7:1-5

Isaiah 29:9-10, 13-16

James 1:12-16

Matthew 6:7-13

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David Ackerman has selected a cohesive set of readings for Ash Wednesday.

In Jeremiah 7 the prophet, delivering his Temple sermon, grouped social injustice, violence, economic exploitation, idolatry, adultery, and false oaths together.  Abandon these practices, Jeremiah decreed, and YHWH will return to the Temple.  The prophet’s words were immediately for naught, of course; the public did not repent–turn around.  A prediction of renewal of that divine-human relationship after the Babylonian Exile came in Isaiah 29, after the condemnation of a skewed view of that relationship, one in which one mistakes the potter for the clay.

The author of Matthew and James reminded their audiences that God does not tempt anyone.  Those writers also encouraged repentance before God.

I do not know anyone who opposes the idea of social justice.  I do, however, know people who understand that concept differently.  Invariably, somebody, acting in the name of social justice will commit social justice and probably be oblivious to that fact.  We humans do, after all, have social and personal moral blinders.  I like that Jeremiah 7 defines social justice in concrete terms. Nevertheless, even those standards are subject to disagreement regarding how best to avoid committing them.  So, of course, someone will invariably support an economically exploitative policy while genuinely opposing economic exploitation.

May God deliver us from being either oblivious to the demand for social justice, defined as how we treat each other–individually and collectively–or from our blind spots regarding how best to effect social justice.  May God also deliver us from all forms of idolatry, such as those that stand between us and social justice.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 5, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ANDERS CHRISTENSEN ARREBO, “THE FATHER OF DANISH POETRY”

THE FEAST OF OLE T. (SANDEN) ARNESON, U.S. NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2017/06/05/devotion-for-ash-wednesday-ackerman/

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The Sin of Favoritism   1 comment

ezra-reads-the-law-to-the-people

Above:  Ezra Reads the Law to the People, by Gustave Dore

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:

Deuteronomy 10:12-22 or Nehemiah 9:1-38

Psalm 6

John 7:1-13

Galatians 2:1-14 (15-21) or Galatians 1:1-24 or James 1:1-16 (17-27) or James 1:17-2:10 (2:11-13)

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The life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was under threat in John 7.  He was, according to certain critics, a blasphemer.  Those critics knew Leviticus 24:10-23 well; the punishment for blasphemy is death (by stoning).  Saul of Tarsus, the future St. Paul the Apostle, thought that he was acting righteously when he stood by during the death of at least one Christian.  Then he learned that he was wrong, that God showed no partiality or favoritism among the faithful, whether Jew or Gentile.

That caution against spiritual arrogance–sometimes expressed violently–is evident also in James 1 and 2.  There we read that we have divine instructions to be impartial.  To treat a prominent or wealthy person better than a poor person is impious, we read.  The text also reminds us of the obligation to treat the poor and the vulnerable justly and with respect, thereby echoing Deuteronomy 10.  Society and social institutions do, as a rule, favor the well-off and penalize the poor, do they not?  This is societal sin.

Societal remorse for and repentance of this point and others would be nice.  The scene in Nehemiah 9 follows the reading of the Law of Moses to Jews in Jerusalem after the end of the Babylonian Exile.  Many people, upon hearing what they should have been doing, felt guilty and wept.  Their leaders told them to rejoice in God (Nehemiah 8:9-12).  Then the people fasted and confessed their sins.  Next, in Chapter 10, they repented–turned their backs on their sins.

I want my society to express remorse for exploiting all vulnerable people, sometimes violently..  I want my society not to weep but to act to correct its foolish ways that harm the poor and all other vulnerable people.  I want other societies to do the same.  I want us to succeed in this great work, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 9, 2016 COMMON ERA

PROPER 21:  THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINT DENIS, BISHOP OF PARIS, AND HIS COMPANIONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT LUIS BERTRAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIEST

THE FEAST OF ROBERT GROSSETESTE, SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF WILHELM WEXELS, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR; HIS NIECE, MARIE WEXELSEN, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER; LUDWIG LINDEMAN, NORWEGIAN ORGANIST AND MUSICOLOGIST; AND MAGNUS LANDSTAD, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, FOLKLORIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNAL EDITOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/09/devotion-for-the-first-sunday-in-lent-year-d/

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The Sin of Legalism   1 comment

christ-healing-the-paralytic-at-bethesda

Above:  Christ Healing the Paralytic at Bethesda, by Palma Giovane

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 57:1-21

Psalm 102

John 5:1-18

James 1:1-16 or Ephesians 2:11-22 or Galatians 1:1-24

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Penitence is related to repentance.  Frequently, in everyday vocabulary, they become interchangeable terms, but they are different.  To repent is to turn one’s back on sin–sin in general and a particular sin or set of sins.  The theological focus on Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent is repentance.

Timothy Matthew Slemmons has done an excellent job of selecting appropriate texts for Ash Wednesday while avoiding the usual suspects.

  1. We read in Isaiah 57 that Judah needs to repent of idolatry.  We also read that judgment will ensue, but that mercy will follow it.
  2. The penitence in Psalm 102 is individual.  In that text the consequences of the sins have caught up with the author, who is in distress and pleading for mercy.
  3. James 1 advises us to rejoice and to trust in God during times of trial, not to yield to temptation during them.  We read that Jesus breaks down barriers between us and God and among us.  Why, then, do many of us insist on maintaining and erecting barriers, especially for others?
  4. Galatians 1 informs us that Jesus liberates us to serve, enjoy, and glorify God.
  5. In John 5 we read of Jesus liberating  man from a physical disability and intangible, related problems.  Then, we read, some strict Sabbath keepers criticize the newly able-bodied man for carrying his bed roll on the Sabbath.  I detect misplaced priorities in the critics.

Each of us has much for which to be pentitent and much of which to repent.  At this time I choose to emphasize legalism, which is a thread in some of the readings.  Legalism, in some cases, has innocent and pious origins; one seeks to obey divine commandments.  Out of good intentions one goes astray and becomes a master nit picker lost amid the proverbial trees and unable to see the forest.  Rules become more important than compassion.  This might be especially likely to happen when one is a member of a recognizable minority defined by certain practices.  Creating neat categories, thereby defining oneself as set apart and others as unclean, for example, can become quite easily an open door to self-righteousness.  It is a sin against which to remain vigilant as one notices a variety of sins in one’s vicinity.

The list of sins I have not committed is long.  So is the list of sins of which I am guilty.  The former does not make up for the latter.  The fact that I have never robbed a liquor store speaks well of me yet does not deliver me from my sins and the consequences thereof; it does, however, testify to what Lutheran theology calls civic righteousness.  Although I have the right to condemn the robbing of liquor stores, I have no become self-righteous and legalistic toward those who have.  They and I stand before God guilty of many sins.  All of us need to be penitent and to repent.  All of us need the mercy of God and the merits of Jesus Christ.

I am no less prone to legalism than any other person is.  My inclination is to break down roadblocks to God, not to create or maintain them.  Nevertheless, I recognize the existence of certain categories and approve of them.  This is healthy to an extent.  But what if some of my categories are false? This is a thought I must ponder if I am to be a faithful Christian.  Am I marginalizing people God calls insiders?  Are you, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 8, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ABRAHAM RITTER, U.S. MORAVIAN MERCHANT, HISTORIAN, MUSICIAN, AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ERIK ROUTLEY, HYMN WRTIER

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

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/08/devotion-for-ash-wednesday-year-d/

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