Archive for the ‘Jeremiah 31’ Category

The Unfortunate Cheapness of Human Life   1 comment

Above:  Massacre of the Innocents, by Pieter Brueghel the Younger

Image in the Public Domain

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Christmas is supposed to be a happy season, right?  Yet darkness exists within it.  Consider, O reader, the sequence of three great feasts:  St. Stephen (December 26)St. John the Evangelist (December 27), and the Holy Innocents (December 28).

The kingdom of the Earth has yet to become the Kingdom of God in its fullness.  Thus we read of exiles in Jeremiah 31.  Then we read the plausible story of the Holy Innocents in Matthew 2.  Herod the Great, we know from both Biblical and extra-Biblical sources, was a disturbed and violent man who had members of his family killed.  One need not stretch credibility to imagine him ordering the murder of strangers, even young children.  Reading the story from Matthew 2 then turning to Psalm 124 creates a sense of jarring irony; one is correct to wonder why God did not spare the Holy Innocents also.

On another note, the account of the Holy Innocents provides evidence for the Magi arriving when Jesus was about two years old.  According to the Western calendar, as it has come down to us, Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.E., placing the birth of Jesus circa 6 B.C.E.  I prefer to use the term “Before the Common Era” for the simple reason that speaking and writing of the birth of Jesus as having occurred “Before Christ”–six years, perhaps–strikes me as being ridiculous.

Back to our main point, while admitting the existence of morally ambiguous and difficult scenarios with only bad choices, and in which doing our best cannot help but lead to unfortunate results….

Human life is frequently cheap.  From abortions to wars, from gangland violence to accidental shootings and crimes of passion, from genocidal governments to merely misguided policies, human life is frequently cheap.  The innocent and the vulnerable suffer.  People who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time suffer.  May God have mercy on us all, for each of us is partially responsible, for merely being part of the social, economic, and political systems that facilitate such suffering.

The kingdom of the Earth has yet to become the Kingdom of God in its fullness.  Only God can make that happen.  We mere mortals can and must, however, leave the world better than we found it.  We can and must do this, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, APOSTLE OF IRELAND

THE FEAST OF EBENEZER ELLIOTT, “THE CORN LAW RHYMER”

THE FEAST OF ELIZA SIBBALD ALDERSON, POET AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN BACCHUS DYKES, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY SCOTT HOLLAND, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER AND PRIEST

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We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod.

Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims;

and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and

establish your rule of justice, love, and peace;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with

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

Jeremiah 31:15-17

Psalm 124

Revelation 21:1-7

Matthew 2:13-18

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 143

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2018/03/17/fourth-day-of-christmas-feast-of-the-holy-innocents-december-28/

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God, Gloriously Subversive   Leave a comment

Above:  Pentecost Dove

Scanned from a Church Bulletin by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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

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O God, who at this time teaches the heart of your faithful people,

by sending them the light of your Holy Spirit:

Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things

and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort;

through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who lives and reigns with you,

in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), pages 127-128

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Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 30

Acts 2:1-8, 12-21

John 14:15-17, 25-27

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Robert C. Wright, the Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta, and my bishop, likes to repeat the slogan,

Love like Jesus.

That teaching is consistent with the reading from John 14, in which the test of loving Jesus is obeying his commandments.  May we recall how Jesus loved and lived–sacrificially and unconditionally.  The ethics of Jesus, as we read them in the Gospels, are those of Judaism–love the LORD with all one’s heart, soul, and mind, and one’s neighbor as oneself.  That is certainly the summary of the Torah, according to Rabbi Hillel, who died when Jesus was a boy.

The Holy Spirit is a great leveler.  A recurring theme in varieties of Christianity, from the Quakers to the Arminians, is equality via the Holy Spirit.  This teaching is, according to those who favor spiritual hierarchy, heretical.  Equality via the Holy Spirit cuts through social–gender, economic, racial, ethnic, et cetera–distinctions, much to the discomfort of those invested in those categories as indications of inequality.  God writes the new covenant on hearts metaphorically without regard to social status.  God, who turns mourning into dancing, is no respecter of persons.  God is, according to human standards, subversive.

This is wonderful news to ponder on any day, but especially on Pentecost, the last day of the Easter season and the birthday of the Church.

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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This is post #1800 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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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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The Age of Divine Patience   1 comment

St. Paul Preaching in Athens

Above:   St. Paul Preaching in Athens, by Raphael

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O Lord God, tireless guardian of your people,

you are always ready to hear our cries.

Teach us to rely day and night on your care.

Inspire us to seek your enduring justice for all the suffering world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 54:11-17

Psalm 121

Acts 17:22-34

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I lift up my eyes to the hills;

from where is my help to come?

My help comes from the LORD,

the maker of heaven and earth.

–Psalm 121:1-2, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The reading from Isaiah 54, echoing Jeremiah 31:33-35 in verse 13, offers high hopes for the future of post-exilic Jerusalem.  Divine anger has come and gone, it says, and the day of extravagant mercy is at hand.  The reality of Jerusalem and Judea after the Babylonian Exile did not match high expectations, as history tells us, but one might hope for that bright future in days to come.

That theme of the balance of divine judgment and mercy continues in Acts 17:29-31.  Mennonite theology has done much with the concept that this is the time of divine patience, with the understanding that such patience, with the understanding that such patience will come to an end.  St. Paul the Apostle, we read, understood the time of divine patience to have ended already and the end times to have begun.  You, O reader, and I know, however, that from the perspective of 2016, nearly 2000 years have transpired since the events of the Acts of the Apostles.  We have nearly 2000 reasons for disagreeing with St. Paul’s assumptions regarding the timing of the parousia.

We live in the age of God’s patience.  May we, by grace, not try or exploit it much more often than we have already.  May our relationship to God be like the one described in Psalm 121 instead.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 31, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VISITATION OF MARY TO ELIZABETH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/devotion-for-thursday-before-proper-24-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Spiritual Responsibility   1 comment

Zedekiah

Above:  King Zedekiah of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world

through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.

Help us to hear your word and obey it,

and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives,

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:

Jeremiah 11:1-17 (Monday)

Ezekiel 17:1-10 (Tuesday)

Psalm 39 (Both Days)

Romans 2:1-11 (Monday)

Romans 2:12-16 (Tuesday)

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You chastise mortals in punishment for sin,

consuming like a moth what is dear to them;

surely everyone is a mere breath.

–Psalm 39:11, The Book of Worship of North India (1995)

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The judgment of God is righteous, the readings for these days tell us.

Ezekiel 17:1-10 requires explanation, for it uses metaphorical language.  The references involving the cedar, the vine, and the eagles refer to international relations from 598 to 588 B.C.E.  In verses 3-6 the meaning is that King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire had taken many prominent people of Judah, including King Jehoiachin (reigned in 597 B.C.E.), into exile, after which King Zedekiah (reigned 597-586 B.C.E.), who was initially loyal to Nebuchadnezzar II, came to the throne of Judah.  The eagle in verses 7-8 is the Pharaoh of Egypt, to whom Zedekiah transferred his loyalty.  The pericope concludes that the survival of Zedekiah and Judah is impossible.

Part of the background of the assigned passage from Ezekiel is the position that pursuing those alliances with dangerous foreign leaders was not only foolish but faithless.  Obey and trust in God instead, prophets said.  Theological interpretation in the context of the Babylonian Exile reinforced that position.  The people and bad kings of Judah reaped what they sowed, the final versions of certain books of the Hebrew Bible argued.  (There were, of course, good kings of Judah.)

God is angry with Judah in Jeremiah 11:1-17.  The people, having generally (with some notable exceptions) refused to obey the covenant with God, will suffer the punishments for noncompliance which the covenant contains.  Among the accusations is rampant idolatry.

The first word of Romans 2 is “therefore,” which leads me back into chapter 1.  The essence of Romans 1 is that Gentiles have no excuse for persistent unrighteousness, including idolatry.  Divine punishment for them for these offenses is therefore justified.  Then, in Romans 2, St. Paul the Apostle tells his Jewish audience not to be spiritually complacent.

The very fact that the Jew agrees so entirely with Paul’s charge against the Gentile shows that he himself is without excuse and subject to the wrath of God.

–Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans (1944); Translated by Carl C. Rasmussen (Philadelphia, PA:  Muhlenberg Press, 1949), page 113

Furthermore, some Gentiles have the law of God inscribed on their hearts, when even some Jews do not.  Doing is better than merely hearing, according to the Apostle.

Three thoughts come to my mind at this point.  The first is that St. Paul was correct.  He echoed Jeremiah 31:31f (the inner law), but expanded the text to include Gentiles.  St. Paul also sounded much like Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5.

Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  For as you judge others, so will yourselves be judged, and whatever measure you deal out will be dealt to you.

–Matthew 7:1-2, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The Gospel of Matthew did not exist during St. Paul’s lifetime, but the Apostle did have some familiarity with oral traditions and perhaps some written sayings of Jesus, from which the author of the Gospel of Matthew drew.

My second thought is that St. Paul’s challenge to question one’s assumptions and prejudices is timeless.  Who are those we define as spiritual outsiders?  Some of them might be closer to God than we are, and we might not be as close to God as we think we are.

My final thought in this collection is that St. Paul sounds very much like the perhaps later Letter of James.

Exhibit A:

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

–Romans 2:13, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The emphasis here is on active faith.  The Pauline definition of faith was confidence, in the absence of evidence for or against, which leads to actions.  Thus, later in the epistle, St. Paul argued:

Therefore since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ….

–Romans 5:1, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Romans 2:13 and 5:1 stand as portions of a unified, steadily building case in a theological treatise.

Exhibit B:

What good is it, my friends, for someone to say he has faith when his actions do nothing to show it?  Can faith save him?…So with faith; if it does not lead to action, it is by itself a lifeless thing.

–James 2:14, 17, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Exhibit C:

Do you have to be told, you fool, that faith divorced from action is futile?…You see then it is by action and not by faith alone that a man is justified.

–James 2:20, 24, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Faith, in the Letter of James, is intellectual, hence the necessity of pairing it with deeds.  On the surface the theologies of justification in the Letter of James and the Letter to the Romans might seem mutually contradictory, but they are not.  No, they arrive at the same point from different destinations.

The judgment of God exists alongside divine mercy.  The balance of the two factor resides solely in the purview of God.  Our actions influence divine judgment and mercy in our cases, however.  One can find that teaching in several places in the Bible, including Ezekiel 18, Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 2:6f, and James 2:8f.  Yes, the legacies of ancestors influence us, but our spiritual responsibility for ourselves remains intact.  May we exercise it properly.

Related to one’s spiritual responsibility for oneself is one’s spiritual responsibility for others, as in Romans 2:17-24.  That, however, is a topic for another post.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 19, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN HERMANN SCHEIN, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF F. BLAND TUCKER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-the-third-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Works in Progress   1 comment

Twelve Tribes Map

Above:  Twelve Tribes of Israel

Scanned from an old Bible

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave us your only Son

to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 31:7-14

Psalm 72

John 1:[1-9] 10-18

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Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,

who alone does wonderful things.

And blessed be his glorious name for ever.

May all the earth be filled with his glory.

Amen. Amen.

–Psalm 72:18-19, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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The reading from Jeremiah 31 comes from articles of consolation focusing on national reunification.  The exiles from Israel, the northern kingdom, will reunite with Judah, the southern kingdom, the text says.  God will turn mourning into joy.

The ten “lost” tribes are not lost, at least not in the sense that their locations are unknown.  The tribes scattered across Africa and Asia.  Most of them have not reunited with the main body of Judaism, although Jewish organizations have been working with some of these groups for the purpose of working toward that goal.  Then there is the case of the Ethiopian Jews, many of whom have relocated to the State of Israel, where they have to contend with racism, a high rate of poverty, and allegations of being insufficiently Jewish.  The prediction of Jeremiah 31 has yet to come true.  The continued passage of time will render its verdict on that prophecy.

The prologue to the Gospel of John is a glorious and profound text.  It, like Jeremiah 31:7-14 and Psalm 72, speaks of acts of God.  Some of these acts have yet to occur.  Yes, the tense in the prologue is past, but consider, O reader, the following passage, the following passage:

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or the will of man, but of God.

–Verses 12-13, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

This continues, does it not?  But to all who receive him….  This will continue, will it not?  But to all who will receive him….

God has acted.  God is acting.  God will continue to act.  As the United Church of Christ says,

God is still speaking.

God has not finished speaking or acting, so who among the ranks of mere mortals knows or can know how God will surprise people next or behave in a non-surprising way?  The passage of time will reveal the answers.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 25, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL FARADAY, SCIENTIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/devotion-for-january-5-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Apostasy and Fidelity   1 comment

Christ Pantocrator

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.

With your abundant grace and might,

free us from the sin that binds us,

that we may receive you in joy and serve you always,

for you live and reign with the Father and

the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Thursday)

Isaiah 42:10-18 (Friday)

Psalm 80:1-7 (Both Days)

Hebrews 10:10-18 (Thursday)

Hebrews 10:32-39 (Friday)

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Restore us, O God of hosts;

show us the light of your countenance,

and we shall be saved.

–Psalm 80:7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The motif of divine judgment and mercy continues in the readings for these days.  Exile will come to pass.  According to the theology of the Old Testament, the main cause was disobedience to the Law of Moses.  After the exile, however, divine mercy will shower upon the Hebrews.  The new covenant will be one written on human hearts, not scrolls or stone tablets.

Divine forgiveness for human sins is a blessing and an expression of grace.  It also creates an obligation to respond favorably to God, out of awe and gratitude.  Such a favorable response will affect those around the one responding accordingly.  How can it not?  Consider, O reader, the commandment to love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself.  That one has societal implications.

The Letter to the Hebrews warns against committing apostasy, or falling away from God.  That emphasis is evident in 10:32-39.  One cannot fall away from God unless one has followed God.  As I wrote in the previous post,

Salvation…is a matter of God’s grace and human obedience.

Divine love for human beings is wonderful.  It does not, however, negate free will.  I recognize a role for predestination also, for I have come to accept the doctrine of Single Predestination, which is consistent with Lutheranism and Anglicanism, as well as moderate Calvinism.  For those not predestined to Heaven the witness of the Holy Spirit is available.  By free will (itself a gift of God) one can accept or reject that witness.  The correct choice is acceptance, but many opt to reject the offer.  Some of them had accepted it.

The responsibility to make the correct choice remains constant.  The necessity of choosing to persist in the faith is a constant once one has embraced wondrous grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 20, 2015 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/2015/08/20/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-the-fourth-sunday-of-advent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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