Archive for the ‘Jeremiah 31’ Category

The Incomparable Sovereign God, with the First Servant Song   1 comment

Above:  Map of the Persian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART IV

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Isaiah 40:12-42:17

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YHWH, who ended the Babylonian Exile, was unconquered, incomparable, sovereign, and formidable.  YHWH, the Creator, was the God of the world, not a tribal or national deity.  YHWH was with the Jewish exiles, the Chosen People.  YHWH put the nations on trial, on behalf of justice.

The poor and the needy

Seek water, and there is none;

Their tongue is parched with thirst.

I the LORD will respond to them.

I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.

–Isaiah 41:17, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Idolatry in the presence of YHWH is futile (41:21-29).

I affirm all of the above while noticing that I have read all of it in various Hebrew prophetic books since I started this long-term project, with the Book of Hosea.  I also recall the Letter of Jeremiah (Baruch 6), one of many tirades against idolatry in Hebrew literature.  Another such tirade awaits me in Isaiah 44:9-20.  These tirades, while mocking idolatry (as they should), frequently mischaracterize idols–the objects themselves–and what idolaters though the objects were.  These tirades after falsely accuse idolaters of believing these figures of wood or metal were gods.  Actually, idolaters believed that divine presences entered idols after complex rituals.

Isaiah 42:1-9 is the First Servant Song.  The servant, we read, will bring justice to the nations.  Who is–was–the servant?  Proposed identities include Jesus (of course), King Cyrus II of the Persian Empire, Second Isaiah, the faithful people within the Hebrew nation, and the Hebrew nation itself.  Isaiah 42:1-4, which borrows from Isaiah 11 and Jeremiah 31:31-36, anticipates an ideal future of justice and ecological harmony.  It also lends itself to identifying the servant as the covenant community (42:6)–Jews, in terms Second Isaiah knew.  I, as one who affirms God’s double covenant, add Christians to the ranks of covenant people.  The task of the covenant people (Jews and Christians) in 2021 is to bring justice to the nations, per Isaiah 42:1-4.  God equips and empowers us to do so.  How many of us accept the mission?

I the LORD, in My grace, have summoned you,

And I have grasped you by the hand.

I created you, and appointed you

A covenant people, a light of nations–

Opening eyes deprived of light,

Rescuing prisoners from confinement,

From the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

–Isaiah 42:6-7, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Those words remain as applicable in 2021 as they were circa 540 B.C.E.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF AUGUSTUS TOLTON, PIONEERING AFRICAN-AMERICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN RUDOLPH AHLE AND JOHANN GEORG AHLE, GERMAN LUTHERAN ORGANISTS AND COMPOSERS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF GORKUM, HOLLAND, 1572

THE FEAST OF ROBERT GRANT, BRITISH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT AND HYMN WRITER

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Ezekiel’s Vision of the Destruction of Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART VI

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Ezekiel 8:1-11:23

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Ezekiel 8:1-11:13, the product of more than one person, contains some unusual editorial choices and odd shifts of attention.  I mention that matter to get it out of the way, so that nobody can legitimately claim that I do not know it.  Now that I have gotten that matter out of the way, I focus on themes, details, and the application thereof.

The figurer who looked like a man (or fire, depending on translation) in 8:2 is the divine Presence, Ezekiel’s guide.  This figure recurs in 40:3f.

The date of the vision in 8:1-11:13 is September 592 B.C.E.

Idolatry recurs as a sin of the people of Judah.

We read that, contrary to what many people think, God has not abandoned Judah–yet–and does see what people are doing (9:9).

Above:  Ezekiel’s Vision, by William Blake

Image in the Public Domain

Chapter 10 reads like a redux of Chapter 1, with some differences.

God departs Judah in Chapter 11.

We read of the divine promise of restoration and cleansing of exiles already in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  We read that those still in Judah are doomed (11:41-21).  We read that God has moved to the exiles in Babylon (11:23).

Ezekiel 11:21 cautions that divine renewal of the exiles is not automatic; it requires human vigilance.  Grace is free, not cheap.

Ezekiel 11:17-21 is thematically similar to Jeremiah 31:33-34; Jeremiah 32:39; Ezekiel 18:31; Ezekiel 36:26.  We read that, in an ideal future, by divine action, disobedience to God will cease to be an option.

In Hebrew prophetic literature, as well as in the Revelation to John, divine faithfulness is never in doubt, from the author’s perspective.  Also, divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.  Creative destruction by God makes way for the establishment for the new, divine order.  In Christian terms, God must destroy the old, corrupt order before the fully-realized Kingdom of God can become visible on the Earth, from a human perspective.  As C. H. Dodd reminds me from the printed page and his grave, the Kingdom of God is; it does not come.  Yet, from a human point of view, certain events make its presence more palpable than it used to be.

Another idea, frequently repeated in the Bible–especially Hebrew prophetic books–is that human sins have consequences.  We human beings condemn ourselves.  We leave God.  We are the faithless ones.  We are arrogant; we do not stand in awe of God.  We read what he have sown.

Yet grace remains.  As the great Southern Baptist theologian Will Campbell said:

We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.

And our only hope is in God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE NATIVITY OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

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Individual Responsibility Before God   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART III

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Ezekiel 3:18-21

Ezekiel 14:12-23

Ezekiel 18:1-32

Ezekiel 33:1-20

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For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for the ancestors’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but showing love down to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

–Exodus 20:5b-6; Deuteronomy 5:9b-10, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

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Maybe not, not withstanding 1 Kings 21:29; Exodus 34:7; Nehemiah 9:17; Numbers 14:18; Psalm 103:9; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Jeremiah 11:21-23; Jeremiah 15:1; Jeremiah 35:18-19.  To the list of passages arguing against intergenerational reward and punishment I add Jeremiah 31:29-30.  (The Book of Jeremiah contains layers of composition and editing.  Parts of that book contradict each other, as in the cases of intergenerational reward and punishment, and whether the deadline for repentance has passed.)

Sin, responsibility, reward, and punishment, in the Bible, are both collective and individual.  The collective varieties are consistent with mutuality.  Individual varieties exist within the context of mutuality, too.

Intergenerational influences are real.  If you, O reader, know enough about yourself and your ancestors for a few generations, perhaps you can identify intergenerational influences, both positive and negative, in your life.  I can identify some in my life.

For the purpose of this post, I bring together four readings on the same theme.  Three of them predate the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B,B.E.).  Ezekiel 33 postdates the Fall of Jerusalem.

Ezekiel 14:12-23 follows a section of threats against false prophets and diviners, and echoes Leviticus 26.  Certain individuals may be pious, but, if the population is rebellious against God, these holy people will save only themselves.  Divine punishment and reward are individual, we read.

I loved my father, now deceased.  He had his virtues and vices, like all human beings.  He was responsible for his actions.

I am responsible for my actions, not his.

This message of individual responsibility seems to have fallen primarily on deaf ears, despite repetition, within the Book of Ezekiel.

Imagine, O reader, that you were a Jew born an exile in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Think about how hearing these words would have resonated with you.  Imagine, perhaps, that this teaching would have given you hope that God would not judge you for what your ancestors had done wrong.  Imagine, maybe, that these words would have encouraged your spiritual journey.

Imagine, O reader, that you were a Jew born in Judea after the end of the Babylonian Exile.  Imagine how you may have welcomed the news that, as you strove to live piously, God would judge you based on yourself, not your ancestors.

I am a Christian.  As one, I read passages about individual responsibility, reward, and punishment through the prism of atonement via Jesus.  The atonement–three theories of which exist in Patristic writings–is the game-changer in my theology regarding the topic of this post.  Nevertheless, I affirm that what I do matters.  The atonement does not give me a license to act as I choose.  I am still morally accountable to God and other human beings.  Faithful response to grace is a constant moral principle in Judaism and Christianity.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 22, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALBAN, FIRST BRITISH MARTYR, CIRCA 209 OR 305

THE FEAST OF DESIDERIUS ERASMUS, DUTCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, BIBLICAL AND CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, AND CONTROVERSIALIST; SAINT JOHN FISHER, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, BISHOP OF ROCHESTER, CARDINAL, AND MARTYR, 1535; AND SAINT THOMAS MORE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, JURIST, THEOLOGIAN, CONTROVERSIALIST, AND MARTYR, 1535

THE FEAST OF GERHARD GIESHCEN, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JAMES ARTHUR MACKINNON, CANADIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, 1965

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF NOLA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF NOLA

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The Book of Consolation   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XIX

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Jeremiah 30:1-31:40

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The Book of Jeremiah contains distinct sections.  30:1-31:40 is the Book of Consolation.  After all the recent doom and gloom in Jeremiah, some consolation is welcome.

Layers of authorship exist in the Book of Consolation:

  1. A layer dating to the prophet himself,
  2. A layer of the editing of statements dating to the prophet himself,
  3. A layer dating to the Babylonian Exile, and
  4. A layer dating to after the Babylonian Exile.

I acknowledge this and focus on themes.

We read of a divine promise of the end of the Babylonian Exile, with collective spiritual renewal attached the return to the ancestral homeland.

We read of God chastising the covenant community for its sins and devouring those who wanted to devour the covenant community.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

The image of God as the Good Shepherd, reversing exile, occurs in Jeremiah 31:10-14.  For other occurrences, read Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 34:11-16.  The image of the Good Shepherd applies to Jesus in John 10:1-21.

Jeremiah 31:15 is one of the verses dubiously quoted in reference to Jesus (Matthew 2:18).  (The Gospel of Matthew frequently quotes the Hebrew Bible dubiously in reference to Jesus.)  Jeremiah 31:15 uses the name of Rachel, wife of Jacob, and alludes to Genesis 35:16-21 and 1 Samuel 10:2.  In Jeremiah 31:15, “Rachel” (Jerusalem personified) weeps for those who have gone into exile.  Yet these exiles–or their descendants–will return, we read.  Matthew 2:18 interprets Jeremiah 31:15 as a prediction of the Massacre of the Innocents at Bethlehem, circa 4 B.C.E.

We also read of the remnant of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel reincorporating into Zion.  This element is either historically troublesome or potentially so.

  1. It may refer to those people of Israel who retained their faith joining the spiritually renewed community.  This is not historically troublesome.  The historical record mentions people fleeing Israel, as well as their descendants moving to the ancestral homeland.
  2. However, if the prophecy in Chapter 30 is a version of the prophecy in Chapter 31, we may have a historical problem, O reader.  The historical record tells us that the descendants of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah never reunited.  The combination of genetics and cultural anthropology tells us that Ten Lost Tribes scattered across the Old World–from South Africa to Afghanistan.  And, with the advent of widespread global travel, we can state with certainty that the descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes have scattered across the world.
  3. We do not have a historical problem if the fulfillment of this prophecy has yet to occur.

Whenever God will reunite the remnants of Israel and Judah, we read, God will establish a new covenant–one written on human hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Early Christian interpretation of this passage as referring to Jesus explains why the New Testament bears the label it does.  We can thank Tertullian (in full, Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullian, c. 160-c. 225 B.C.E.) for that.  In the context of Jeremiah 31, though, the prophecy refers to the internalization of the Torah, therefore, to a spiritual state in which disobedience to God will cease to be an option.

This topic reminds me of an abbreviation of an extended passage from St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430):

Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.

The too-abbreviated version is:

Love God and do whatever you please.

The rest of the quote is essential for proper context and understanding.

Anyhow, the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34 has yet to come true communally.  Some especially holy men and women may have, by grace, achieved the spiritual state St. Augustine described.  I am not one of them.

Jeremiah 31 concludes with the repetition of divine faithfulness to the covenant people.  God may punish them for their sins, but will never destroy them.  The Jews will remain the Chosen People for all time.  Jeremiah 31:38-40 reverses Jeremiah 1:10.

See, I appoint you this day

Over nations and kingdoms:

To uproot and pull down,

To destroy and to overthrow,

To build up and to plant.

–Jeremiah 1:10, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This is the beginning of one thread.  Then we read Jeremiah 31:38-40:

See, a time is coming–declares the LORD–when the city shall be rebuilt for the LORD from the tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate; and the measuring line shall go straight out to the Gareb Hill, and then turn toward Goah.  And the entire Valley of the Corpses and Ashes, and all the fields as far as the Wadi Kidron, and the corner of the Horse Gate on the east, shall be holy to the LORD.  They shall never again be uprooted or overthrown.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This description of the rebuilding of Jerusalem speaks of a promising future.  Yet I know of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.  We may be reading a yet-unfulfilled prophecy.

Or Jeremiah may have gotten this one wrong.  He also predicted the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian conquest of Egypt (46:1-6).  The Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire never conquered Egypt.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 6:  THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT SPYRIDON OF CYPRUS, BISHOP OF TREMITHUS, CYPRUS; AND HIS CONVERT, SAINT TRYPHILLIUS OF LEUCOSIA, CYPRUS; OPPONENTS OF ARIANISM

THE FEAST OF DAVID ABEEL, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED MINISTER AND MISSIONARY TO ASIA

THE FEAST OF ELIAS BENJAMIN SANFORD, U.S. METHODIST THEN CONGREGATIONAL MINISTER AND ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF SIGISMUND VON BIRKEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, U.S. POET, JOURNALIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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Sin and Punishment   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XII

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Jeremiah 17:1-20:18

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The Hebrew prophetic books are repetitive.  When one reads the genre methodically, one realizes this.  Pardon me, therefore, O reader, for not explaining every repeated theme in Jeremiah 17:1-20:18.

Jeremiah 17:1-4 uses powerful imagery to condemn illegitimate worship at cultic sites.  Proverbs 3:3 and 7:3 refer to the tablet of the heart, on which the divine commandments are inscribed.  Yet in Jeremiah 17:1, those tablets are inscribed with the guilt of Judah instead.  Such a heart symbolizes disobedience to God in Ezekiel 2:4 and 3:7.  Eventually, God will make a new covenant, one inscribed on the hearts of the people (Jeremiah 31:31-34).  For now, however, repentance is not an option.  The sins of Judah, not the reparation blood (Leviticus 4:1-7, 13-20), are on the stones of the altar.

2 Kings 22-23 tells of the religious reformation of King Josiah (r. 640-609 B.C.E.).  One may read Jeremiah 17:1-4 and surmise that 17:1-4 predates those reforms or that his four successors presided over a rollback of those reforms.  Either option is feasible.  The second option may be more likely.

God is faithful and forever.  Even the most pious and benevolent people, those who keep the covenant, are not forever.  The Book of Jeremiah focuses on God and on those who are neither pious nor benevolent, though.

Returning to the imagery of the human heart in 17:9-10, we read that the human heart is crooked and deceitful.  The germane Hebrew word, suggestive of deceit, means “crooked.”  The human heart is the most crooked thing, we read.  This is a spiritual and moral pathology.

Jeremiah 17:11 speaks for itself.

Jeremiah’s desire for vengeance (17:18) was predictable.  I have known the same desire under less severe circumstances.  Maybe you have, also, O reader.

The Deuteronomic perspective in the Book of Jeremiah and other Hebrew prophetic books teaches that the (northern) Kingdom of Israel and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah declined and fell because of persistent, unrepentant, collective disregard for the moral mandates of the Law of Moses.  This is the perspective written into much of the Old Testament, from the perspective of the editors after the Babylonian Exile.  Jeremiah 17:19-27 singles out violations of the Sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:14)–especially commercial transactions–as being emblematic of widespread, systemic disregard for the covenant.

Sabbath-keeping has long been a feature of Judaism and Christianity.  Keeping the Sabbath–a sign of freedom in the Law of Moses–has been a way of emulating God.  On the seventh day, in mythology, God created the Sabbath (Genesis 2:1-3).  Sabbath-keeping has always been challenging, in practical terms.  Stopping all work on that day (however one defines it) has always been impossible.  Certain work has always been crucial to perform on the Sabbath, and members of the clergy have had to take their Sabbath some other time in the week.  The Hasmoneans, zealous keepers of the Law of Moses, bowed to reality and engaged in defensive combat (1 Maccabees 2:31-48; 1 Maccabees 9:23-73; 2 Maccabees 15:1-19).  If they had done otherwise, they would have lost battles and lives needlessly.

Sabbath-keeping works to the benefit of people.  Everyone needs to take time off to live.  One should work to live, not live to work.  Structural economic factors may restrict one’s options in keeping the Sabbath as one would prefer to do.  Also, the common good requires, for example, that public health and safety continue on the Sabbath.  Time off is a mark of freedom.  Slavery assumes many forms; one can be a wage slave.

The prophecy of the potter (Jeremiah 18:1-12) is familiar, and popular with lectionary committees.  I have written about it while blogging through lectionaries.  I bring your attention, O reader, to a key point:  God, the Creator, is free to handle His creation as He sees fit.  I am a piece of pottery, not the potter.

People kept plotting against Jeremiah.  Had I been Jeremiah, I would have complained to God, too.  I would have prayed to God to show no mercy on the plotters, also.  I, too, may have rued the day of my birth.  Jeremiah was only human.  God knew that before calling Jeremiah to be a prophet.

Jeremiah made no allies by following God’s instructions in Chapter 19 and symbolically smashing a jug.  That act led to a flogging and a brief incarceration.  Jeremiah suffered intensely and briefly, but Passhur the priest was going to experience “terror all around.” Judah was failing; nobody could change that.

Many people in authority like to maintain their power.  Some of them peacefully resign themselves to the realities of age, health, constitutional term limits, and election results; others do not.  Many people in authority are servant leaders; others are tyrants or would-be despots.  I suppose that nobody in authority wants to hear that the institution, nation-state, kingdom, empire, et cetera, is doomed.  Yet how one handles that news is a test of character.  Besides, power reveals a person’s character.  And, as Heraclitus said,

A man’s character is his fate.

I wonder how Passhur the priest felt in 586 B.C.E., after the Fall of Jerusalem.  I wonder if he remembered the words of Jeremiah and wept bitterly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES OF NISIBIS, BISHOP; AND SAINT EPHREM OF EDESSA, “THE HARP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT”

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK C. GRANT, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND NEW TESTAMENT SCHOLAR; AND HIS SON, ROBERT M. GRANT, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND PATRISTICS SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS OF GETULIUS, AMANTIUS, CAERAELIS, AND PRIMITIVUS, MARTYRS AT TIVOLI, 120; AND SAINT SYMPHROSA OF TIVOLI, MARTYR, 120

THE FEAST OF SAINT LANDERICUS OF PARIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF THOR MARTIN JOHNSON, U.S. MORAVIAN CONDUCTOR AND MUSIC DIRECTOR

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Building Up Each Other in Christ, Part VIII   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday of Advent, Year 2

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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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Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness,

and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life,

in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility;

that in the last day, when he shall come again in his

glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead,

we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth

with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 105

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Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 46

Hebrews 10:19-25

Matthew 25:1-13

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“Desist!  Realize that I am God!

I dominate the nations;

I dominate the earth.”

–Psalm 46:11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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…for he is utterly dependable….

J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972)

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Three themes dominate this group of four readings.  They are:

  1. the reliability of God,
  2. the sovereignty of God, and
  3. the balance of divine judgment and mercy.

In the full Biblical sense, to believe in God is to trust God.  Whenever someone asks me if I believe in God, I reply first by asking what he or she means by “believe in God.”  The second part of my answer depends on what the person means.  I am glad to answer honestly, but I need to know what the question really is.  I always affirm the existence of God.  That is insufficient, though.  I trust God most of the time.  I know the meaning of

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.

–Matthew 9:24

Trusting God can be difficult, especially during times of distress.

I publish this devotional post during a time of global and national distress.  The COVID-19 pandemic, made worse by human irresponsibility (both collective and individual) is taking lives, damaging lives, and wrecking economies.  Right-wing populism, fueled by hatred and resentment, remains firmly entrenched in the mainstream of politics in many nation-states.  Misinformation and what Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) called “damn lies” spread quickly via the internet and other media.  Achieving a consensus regarding what constitutes objective reality has become increasingly difficult in this age of “alternative facts.”  Incivility is on the rise.

Affirming with my lips, pens, pencils, and computer keyboards that God dominates the earth and is utterly dependable is easier than internalizing that message.  Yet I think about Jeremiah, who watched homeland, reduced to vassalage to the Babylonian/Neo-Chaldean Empire, near its end at the hands of that empire.  I recall his documented struggles with God.  And I read a bold yet partially-fulfilled prediction in 31:31-34.

God is faithful, as we must be.  Collective and individual responsibility are Biblical virtues.  The parable in Matthew 25:1-13 reminds us of our individual responsibility.  It tells us that there are some spiritual tasks nobody can fulfill for us.  And mutuality remains a principle that carries over from the Law of Moses.

I consider the epistle reading.  Hebrews 10:19-25 is usually a passage assigned for Good Friday.  Scheduling this passage for the First Sunday of Advent makes much sense and fits with precedents.  One may detect, for example, the inclusion of the classical Passion Chorale (with words other than those for Good Friday) in some sacred music for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.  One may recognize this motif in certain compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.  To think of the crucifixion near and at Christmas is appropriate.

The advice, set in the context of faith community, to build up each other and to provoke one another to love and good deeds is timeless and sage counsel.  It falls into the category of mutuality.  May we, collectively and individually, look out for each other and take care of each other.  May we seek to build up each other, not tear each other down.  May we bolster each other in healthy faith.  May we love according to the standard of the Golden Rule and 1 Corinthians 13.  May we succeed, by faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 27, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES INTERCISUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 421

THE FEAST OF JAMES MILLS THOBURN, ISABELLA THOBURN, AND CLARA SWAIN, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARIES TO INDIA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COOKE AND BENJAMIN WEBB, ANGLICAN PRIESTS AND TRANSLATORS OF HYMNS

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God’s Second Call of Jonah, with the Repentance of the Ninevites   Leave a comment

Above:  Jonah, by George Fredric Watts

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JONAH

PART III

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Jonah 3:1-10

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Jonah 3 includes the humorous element of exaggeration.

  1. No ancient city was a three-days’ walk across.  Sorry, Jonah 3:3.
  2. Even the livestock repented.  (Jonah 3:7-8)

Jonah’s preaching in Nineveh deserves attention.

  1. The call to repent is absent.
  2. The message is brief:  “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”  The message does not explain why Nineveh will be “overthrown” or what the Hebrew word translated “overthrown” means.
  3. The Hebrew word we read as “overthrown” or “overturned” is its own antonym.  (Think, O reader, about “oversight” in English.  “Oversight” means both supervising and seeing, on one hand, and not seeing, on the other hand.) The germane Hebrew word indicates destruction in some texts, including Genesis 19:21, 25, and 29; Deuteronomy 29:22; Jeremiah 20:16; and 4:6.  Nevertheless, the same word indicates deliverance in other passages, including Deuteronomy 23:5; Psalm 66:6; and Jeremiah 31:13. 
  4. The scene, then, is one of Jonah preaching the destruction of Nineveh and of repentance causing the city’s deliverance.  The scene is one of Jonah undercutting his own message.  The scene is one of Jonah’s prediction mocking him.  The scene is one of penitent Ninevites undermining Jonah’s message.

Divine persistence can wear down human resistance  And God can work through us, despite ourselves.  So be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 11, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ANNE STEELE, FIRST IMPORTANT ENGLISH FEMALE HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWIN HATCH, ANGLICAN PRIEST, SCHOLAR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MARTHA COFFIN PELHAM WRIGHT; HER SISTER, LUCRETIA COFFIN MOTT; HER HUSBAND, JAMES MOTT; HIS SISTER, ABIGAIL LYDIA MOTT MOORE; AND HER HUSBAND, LINDLEY MURRAY MOORE; U.S. QUAKER ABOLITIONISTS AND FEMINISTS

THE FEAST OF PETER TAYLOR FORSYTH, SCOTTISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN

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Perplexing Readings   1 comment

Above:  The Parable of the Unjust Steward, by Jan Luyken

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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1 Samuel 15:1-23 or Jeremiah 31:27-34

Psalm 109:1-5, 21-27, 30-31

Romans 11:1-21

Luke 16:1-15

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We have some perplexing readings this Sunday.  Seldom does a lectionary load a Sunday with difficult lessons.

  1. The attack on the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15 was to avenge an Amalekite attack on Israelites centuries prior, in Exodus 17:8-16.
  2. According to Deuteronomy 20:16-18 and 25:17-19, King Saul and his forces, engaged in a holy war (Is there such a thing?), should have killed all enemies, taken no prisoners, and taken no booty.  They took booty and spared the life of King Agag, though.  This, according to 1 Samuel 15, led to God’s final rejection of Saul, who had blamed others for his violation of the law.  (Are we not glad that leaders everywhere no longer deflect blame for their errors?  That is a sarcastic question, of course.)
  3. The tone in Psalm 109 is relentlessly unforgiving.
  4. We read in Romans 11:1-21 that Gentile believers are, by the mercy of God, a branch grafted onto the Jewish tree.  Yet the Gentile branch is not exempt from the judgment of God.  The Gentile branch also has a long and shameful record of anti-Semitism.
  5. The Parable of the Unjust Steward/Corrupt Manager is a challenging text.  The titular character is not a role model, after all.  Yet he is intelligent and able to secure his future by committing favors he can call in when he needs to do so.  One point is that we should be astute, but not corrupt.  Naïveté is not a spiritual virtue.
  6. Money is a tool.  It should never be an idol, although it frequently is.  Greed is one of the more common sins.

I admit my lack of comfort with 1 Samuel 15 and its background.  As Amy-Jill Levine says, people did things differently back then.

I also know well the desire for divine vindication, as well as the unwillingness to forgive.  And, when I want to forgive, I do not always know how to do so.  This reminds me of the predicament of St. Paul the Apostle in Romans 7:19-20.

Each of us is susceptible to many forms of idolatry.  Something or someone becomes an idol when one treats something of someone as an idol.  Function defines an idol.

And what about that parable?  In the context of the Gospel of Luke, one needs also to consider teachings about wealth–blessed are the poor, woe to the rich, et cetera.  The theme of reversal of fortune is germane.  Also, the order not to exalt oneself, but to be kind to those who cannot repay one (Luke 14:7-14) constitutes a counterpoint to the dishonest/corrupt/astute manager/steward.  Remember, also, that if the fictional manager/steward had been honest, he would have kept his job longer, and we would not have that parable to ponder as we scratch our heads.

Obeying the Golden Rule, being as innocent as doves, and being as wise as serpents seems like a good policy.  May we heed the law of God written on our hearts, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 27, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE WASHINGTON DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF NEW JERSEY; AND HIS SON, WILLIAM CROSWELL DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ALBANY; HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANTONY AND THEODOSIUS OF KIEV, FOUNDERS OF RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MONASTICISM; SAINT BARLAAM OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT; AND SAINT STEPHEN OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, POET AND RELIGIOUS WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS REMACLUS OF MAASTRICHT, THEODORE OF MAASTRICHT, LAMBERT OF MAASTRICHT, HUBERT OF MAASTRICT AND LIEGE, AND FLORIBERT OF LIEGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT LANDRADA OF MUNSTERBILSEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS; AND SAINTS OTGER OF UTRECHT, PLECHELM OF GUELDERLAND, AND WIRO, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARIES

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZITA OF TUSCANY, WORKER OF CHARITY

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2020/04/27/devotion-for-proper-23-year-c-humes/

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Hardness of Heart   2 comments

Above:  Christ Walking on the Waters, by Julius Sergius von Klever

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Seventh 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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O God, whose never-failing Providence ordereth all things in heaven and earth;

we humbly beseech thee to put away from us all hurtful things,

and to give us those things which may be profitable for us;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 196

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Jeremiah 31:23-25

Psalm 31:15-24

Romans 6:19-23

Mark 6:45-56

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Deliverance–both individual and collective–is a theme in the readings.  Deliverance may be from sins and their consequences.  It may be from illness or another form of distress.  Deliverance is of God in all cases.

The reading from Mark 6 contains echoes of the Hebrew Bible.  Jesus, walking on water, seems like YHWH, appearing on the waters (Job 9:8 and 38:16).  Jesus, meaning to pass by the  boat, seems like YHWH in Exodus 33:19, 22.  Our Lord and Savior’s self-identification echoes “I AM” (Exodus 3:13f).

Translations vary, of course, but the critique of the Apostles in the boat (6:52) in that they were hard-hearted or had closed minds.  This is the same critique Jesus had of the people who condemned him for healing on the Sabbath in Mark 6:3:5.

Mark 6:52

  • “…but their hearts were hardened.” (New Revised Standard Version, 1989)
  • “…their minds were still in the dark.” (J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition, 1972)
  • “…their minds were closed.”  (The New Jerusalem Bible, 1985; The Revised English Bible, 1989)
  • …they were being obstinate.”  (Annotated Scholars Version, 1992)

Mark 3:5

  • “…he was grieved at their hardness of heart…” (New Revised Standard Version, 1989)
  • “…looking at them with anger and sorrow at their obstinate stupidity…” (The Revised English Bible, 1989)
  • “Then he looked angrily around at them, grieved to find them so obstinate….” (The New Jerusalem Bible, 1985)
  • “Then Jesus, deeply hurt as he sensed their inhumanity, looked around in anger…” (J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition, 1972)
  • “…And looking right at them with anger, exasperated at their obstinacy…” (Annotated Scholars Version, 1992)

Simply, hard-heartedness = dark-mindedness = closed-mindedness = obstinacy = obstinate stupidity = inhumanity, in the original Greek texts.

The Apostles receive much negative press in the Gospel of Mark.  The application of that pattern for we readers is a caution:  we, who think we are insiders, may be outsiders, actually.  We may be terribly oblivious.  We, who should know better, do not, while alleged outsiders are more perceptive than we are.  We need for God to deliver us from our hardness of heart, one of our sins, and itself a gateway to other sins, from which we also need deliverance.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 18, 2020 COMMON ERA

SATURDAY IN EASTER WEEK

THE FEAST OF ROGER WILLIAMS, FOUNDER OF RHODE ISLAND; AND ANNE HUTCHINSON, REBELLIOUS PURITAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIA CONNELLY, FOUNDRESS OF THE SOCIETY OF THE HOLY CHILD JESUS

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA ANNA BLONDIN, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT ANNE

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MURIN OF FAHAN, LASERIAN OF LEIGHLIN, GOBAN OF PICARDIE, FOILLAN OF FOSSES, AND ULTAN OF PERONNE, ABBOTS; AND SAINTS FURSEY OF PERONNE AND BLITHARIUS OF SEGANNE, MONKS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROMAN ARCHUTOWSKI, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1943

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Coronavirus/COVID-19: Prayers   1 comment

I posted these prayers at GATHERED PRAYERS yesterday.–KRT

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ON THE OCCASION OF A DISASTER

Compassionate God, whose Son Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus:

Draw near to us in this time of sorrow and anguish,

comfort those who mourn,

strengthen those who are weary,

encourage those in despair,

and lead us all to fullness of life;

through the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer,

who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

God for ever and ever.  Amen.

Readings

Job 14:7-13 or Jeremiah 31:15-20

Psalm 60 or 130 or 80:1-7 or 23

Romans 8:35-38 or Revelation 21:1-7 or Romans 8:18-25

Luke 6:20-26 or Mark 13:14-27

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 733

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IN A TIME OF NATURAL DISASTER

O God, you divided the waters of chaos at creation.

In Christ you stilled storms, raised the dead,

and vanquished demonic powers.

Tame the earthquake, wind, and fire,

and all forces that defy control or shock us by their fury.

Keep us from calling disaster your justice.

Help us, in good times and in distress,

to trust your mercy and yield to your power, this day and for ever.

Amen.

–Andy Langford, in The United Methodist Book of Worship (1992), 509

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DURING A NATIONAL CRISIS

God of ages,

in your sight nations rise and fall,

and pass through times of peril.

Now when our land is troubled,

be near to judge and save.

May leaders be led by your wisdom;

may they search your will and see it clearly.

If we have turned from your way,

help us to reverse our ways and repent.

Give us light and your your truth to guide us;

through Jesus Christ,

who is the Lord of this world, and our Savior.  Amen.

Book of Common Worship (1993), 818

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TIME OF CONFLICT, CRISIS, DISASTER

O God, where hearts are fearful and constricted, grant courage and hope.

Where anxiety is infectious and widening, grant peace and reassurance.

Where impossibilities close every door and and window, grant imagination and resistance.

Where distrust twists our thinking, grant healing and illumination.

Where spirits are daunted and weakened, grand soaring wings and strengthened dreams.

All these things we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 76

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TIME OF CIVIC MOURNING

God our creator, through whose providing care we enjoy all goodness and life,

turn our eyes to your mercy at this time of confusion and loss.

Comfort this nation as we mourn;

shine your light on those whose only companion is darkness;

and teach us so to number our days that we may apply our hearts to your wisdom;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 77

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