Archive for the ‘Leviticus’ Category

The Issue of the Choppiness of Pericopes in the Revised Common Lectionary   Leave a comment

2-thessalonians

Above:  The Second Reading for Proper 26, Year C

Scanned from the Bulletin for St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, October 30, 2016

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) (1992) is a wonderful resource for preaching and Bible study.  With its three-year cycle it covers about one-fourth of the Bible (the Protestant Bible, that is, I suppose).  Certainly the RCL covers more of scripture than does its immediate predecessor, the Common Lectionary (1983) and any of a number of one-year and two-year lectionaries the RCL has replaced in a variety of denominations.  Furthermore, as a number of clergymen and clergywomen have said, the RCL requires them to address passages of the Bible on which they might not have preached otherwise.  Another advantage of reading scripture via a lectionary, the RCL in particular, is that it helps one read passages of scripture in the context of each other.  Scripture is, after all, one context in which to read scripture properly.

Sometimes the RCL chops up passages of scripture, skipping over certain verses.  On some occasions this does not change the meaning or flavor of the pericope; the cut might serve the purpose of sparing the lector of having to read polysyllabic names that have no effect on the point of the lesson, as in Nehemiah 8:4.  Sometimes the cuts create an awkward composite reading yet do not change the meaning of the passage.  For example, the First Reading (Track One) for Proper 26, Year C, is Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4, skipping over God’s reply to the prophet and most of the prophet’s answer to God in the first chapter.  The main reason for this kind of cut seems to be time.  Besides, a good homilist can summarize the cut material, so that omission is fine.  I do, however, object to other cuts.

Consider, O reader, 1 Thessalonians 1.  The verses from it assigned for reading on Proper 26, Year C, are 1-4 and 11-12.  This fact makes me more interested in verses 5-10 than I might be otherwise.  In The Revised English Bible (1989) verses 1-4 read:

From Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians who belong to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friends, we are always bound to thank God for you, and it is right that we should, because your faith keeps on increasing and the love you all have for each other grows ever greater.  Indeed we boast about you among the churches of God, because your faith remains so steadfast under all the persecutions and troubles you endure.

Verses 5-10 read:

This points to the justice of God’s judgement; you will be proved worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering.  It is just that God should balance the account by sending affliction to those who afflict you, and relief to you who are afflicted, and to us as well, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in blazing fire.  Then he will mete out punishment to those who refuse to acknowledge God and who will not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will suffer the penalty of eternal destruction, cut off from the presence of the Lord, and the splendor of his might, when on the great day he comes to reveal his glory among his own and his majesty among all believers; and therefore among you, since you believed the testimony we brought you.

Verses 11-12, the end of the chapter, read:

With this in mind we pray for you always, that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and that his power may bring to fulfilment every good purpose and every act inspired by faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Omitting verses 5-10 removes the crucial link between verses 1-4 and verses 11-12.  It also changes the tone of the reading, dropping the balance of divine judgment and mercy.  I understand that the question of the balance of judgment and mercy in God can be uncomfortable for many people, but that question does recur in both the Old and New Testaments.  I do not pretend to have arrived at answer other than “only God knows.”  So be it.

Omitting uncomfortable verses is a pattern in the RCL, which does not omit all of them.  All one has to do to notice this pattern of avoiding reading certain verses is to pay attention to the RCL’s treatment of the Book of Psalms.  The RCL avoids some Psalms entirely and omits certain uncomfortable passages in others.  The emotions in the Psalms are frequently raw and not Christlike.  This fact might make one uncomfortable speaking, chanting, or singing certain lines in Christian worship.  Nevertheless, the RCL does include all of Psalm 137, even the part about dashing the heads of the children of enemies against a rock.  In contrast, I note that the Common Lectionary (1983) omits the final, vengeful verses of Psalm 137.

I have noticed these omissions more than I used to since I began to teach an adult Sunday School class just over a year ago.  For slightly more than a year I have studied the assigned readings ahead of time so I can lead a discussion of them between the morning services.  More than once I have extended readings in class and led a discussion of pericopes as I have thought they should have been, that is, not chopped up, cut, and pasted.

As much as I affirm the RCL as a useful tool, I also recognize its limitations.  There is, of course, the three-quarters of the (Protestant, I presume) Bible it does not cover.  According to my reading regarding lectionaries, a seven-year cycle would cover just about all of the (Protestant, I presume) material.  How many congregations and homilists are ready for Years A. B, C, D, E, F, and G?  And how much of Leviticus does one what to hear read aloud in church on Sunday mornings?  The main limitation of the RCL is one pastors can fix easily; they can extend readings and restore omitted verses.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 31, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT WOLFGANG OF REGENSBURG, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY BISHOP

THE FEAST OF ALL HALLOWS’ EVE

THE FEAST OF THE REFORMATION

THE VIGIL FOR THE EVE OF ALL SAINTS’ DAY

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Repentance and Restoration   1 comment

the-denial-of-saint-peter-caravaggio

Above:  The Denial of Saint Peter, by Caravaggio

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 30:1-14

Psalm 115 or 113

John 7:53-8:11 or Luke 22:1-38 (39-46)

Romans 2:12-29

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Maundy Thursday is an especially appropriate day to repent.  We all need to turn our backs to our sins daily, of course, but the commemoration of the final events leading to the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior should remind us all to take a spiritual inventory and turn over some new leaves.  Deuteronomy 30, following directly from Chapter 29, tells us that, after idolatry and other sins, as well as their consequences, will come the opportunity for repentance and restoration.  The psalms extol God, for whom no idol is a good substitute.  Idols come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.  Some are tangible, but many are not.  That which is an idol for one person is not an idol for another individual.  All idolatry must cease.  Repentance and restoration can still occur.

The pericope from John 7:53-8:11 really belongs in the Gospel According to Luke.  One can, in fact, read John 7:52 and skip to 8:12 without missing a beat.  The story, whenever it occurred in the life of Jesus, teaches vital lessons.  The religious authority figures, we learn, sought to entrap our Lord and Savior.  In so doing, we discover, they violated the law, for they provided no witnesses and did not care about the location of the man (Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22).  As we read, Jesus reversed the trap, outwitted his opponents, and sent the woman away forgiven.  I conclude that certain words from Romans 2 would have fit well in our Lord and Savior’s mouth, given the circumstances:

You teach others, then; do you not teach yourself?

–Verse 21a, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Falling into sin is easy; one can simply stumble into it out of fear or ignorance.  St. Simon Peter acted out of fear when he denied knowing Jesus.  Fear was understandable, although that fact did not reduce the sin.  Yet, as we read in John 21, Christ gave St. Simon Peter the opportunity to profess his love for him as many times as he had denied knowing him.  The Apostle accepted the opportunity, although he was not aware of what Jesus was doing at the time.

May we strive, by grace, to sin as rarely as possible.  And, when we do sin (many times daily), may we express our penitence and repent.  Christ, simultaneously priest and victim as well as master and servant, beckons us to follow him.  We will stumble and fall often; he knows that.  Get up yet again and resume following me, he says.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 10, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN NITSCHMANN, SR., MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND BISHOP; DAVID NITSCHMANN, JR., THE SYNDIC, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY BISHOP; AND DAVID NITSCHMANN, THE MARTYR, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF CECIL FRANCES ALEXANDER, POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN LUDWIG BRAU, NORWEGIAN MORAVIAN TEACHER AND POET

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN LEONARDI, FOUNDER OF THE CLERKS REGULAR OF THE MOTHER OF GOD OF LUCCA; AND JOSEPH CALASANCTIUS, FOUNDER OF THE CLERKS REGULAR OF RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/10/devotion-for-maundy-thursday-year-d/

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The Sin of Exclusionary Identity Politics   1 comment

lake-umbagog-wilderness-refuge

Above:  Umbagog Lake State Park, New Hampshire, United States of America

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:

Ezekiel 47:1-12

Psalm 143

John 7:14-36 (37-39)

James 2:(14-17) 18-26 or James 2:(1-10) 11-13 (14-17) 18-26 or Galatians 2:1-14 (15-21)

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Water is essential for life; one can life longer with water and without food than without water.  The preciousness of water is especially obvious in a parched and barren place.  In that context we read, from the early stage of the Babylonian Exile, a prediction of God’s recreation of the world and the restoration of the Kingdom of Judah and of worship at the Temple in Jerusalem.  The rebuilt temple will occupy the central place in creation, we read, and from beneath the new Temple will flow life-giving waters.

That vision of post-exilic paradise on earth proved to be overly optimistic, however.  Life in post-exilic Judea did not match the vision of Ezekiel 47.  Nevertheless, God had acted.  Certainly many post-exilic Jews recited Psalm 124 with gratitude.

Part of post-exilic Judaism was a renewed focus on obeying the Law of Moses.  Some, however, took this principle to legalistic extremes.  One was supposed to do no work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11), under pain of death (Numbers 15:32-36), with few exceptions.  Among these exceptions was circumcising a newborn boy on the eighth day, even if that day fell on the Sabbath (Leviticus 12:3).  Jesus healed on the Sabbath, pronounced the performing of good deeds on that day holy, and even noted the value of basic human needs, such as gathering food, permissible on that day.  He pointed to the hypocrisy of certain critics, who condemned him for healing on the Sabbath yet approved of removing valuable livestock from peril on that day.  In John 7 had Jesus committed a capital offense by healing on the Sabbath?  Some thought he had.  The poor man stoned in Numbers 15 had only gathered sticks on the Sabbath.

As James 2 reminds us, faith without works is dead and one should fulfill the law by acting according to the Golden Rule.  When I read the lection from John 7 I detect identity politics among the critics of our Lord and Savior.  I recall that they had set themselves apart from the Gentile-dominated world via their religion, with its laws and rituals.  I also detect such identity politics in the background of Galatians 2, although St. Paul the Apostle won approval for his mission to Gentiles, fortunately.

Religion should be about glorifying God, not our psyches.  It should teach us of our proper identities in God, not function as an excuse to exclude others, whom God considers insiders, wrongly.  Religion, with necessary rules, ought never to become an excuse for ignoring the commandment to act compassionately.

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-second-sunday-in-lent-year-d/

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Atonement and the Sovereignty of God   1 comment

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist

Above:  Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, by Caravaggio

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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Leviticus 16:1-34

Psalm 69

Matthew 14:1-12

Hebrews 9:1-28

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O God, you know my folly;

the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

–Psalm 69:5, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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The contents of Leviticus 16 might seem odd to a Gentile, especially one who is a Christian.  Part of a note from The Jewish Study Bible–Second Edition (2014) explains it well:

The preceding chs have established that sins and bodily impurities contaminate the Tabernacle.  Regular atonement for unintentional sin and the routine eradication of impurity eliminate as much of both types of defilement as possible.  Yet, since not all unintentional wrongs are discovered and not everyone is diligent about atonement, a certain amount of defilement remains.  In particular, deliberate crimes, which contaminate the inner sanctum where the divine Presence is said to dwell, are not expurgated by the regular atonement rituals.  This ch thus provides the instructions for purging the inner sanctum along with the rest of the Tabernacle once a year, so that defilement does not accumulate.  It logically follows the laws of purification (chs 12-15), as they conclude with the statement that only by preventing the spread of impurity can the Israelites ensure God’s continual presence among them (15:31).  The annual purification ritual, briefly alluded to in Ex. 30:10, is to be performed on the tenth day of the seventh month (v. 29).  Elsewhere (23:27, 28; 25:9) this day is referred to as “yom hakippurim”–often translated as “Day of Atonement.”

–Page 231

When we turn to the Letter to the Hebrews we read an extended contrast between the annual rites for Yom Kippur and the one-time sacrifice of Jesus.  We also read a multi-chapter contrast between human priests and Jesus, who is simultaneously the priest and the victim.

How much more will the blood of Christ, who offered himself, blameless as he was, to God through the eternal Spirit, purify our conscience from dead actions so that we can worship the living God.

–Hebrews 9:14, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

St. John the Baptist, of whose death we read in Matthew 14:1-12, was the forerunner of Jesus.  Not only did John point to Jesus and baptize him, but he also preceded him in violent death.  The shedding of the blood of St. John the Baptist on the orders of Herod Antipas was a political and face-saving act.  Antipas had, after all, imprisoned John for political reasons.  The alleged crime of St. John the Baptist was to challenge authority with his words, which was one reason for the crucifixion of Jesus also.

Part of the grace evident in martyrdom (such as that of St. John the Baptist) and of the crucifixion of Jesus was that those perfidious deeds glorified not those who ordered and perpetrated them but God.  We honor St. John the Baptist, not Herod Antipas, and thank God for John’s faithful witness.  We honor Jesus of Nazareth and give thanks–for his resurrection; we do not sing the praises of the decision-making of Pontius Pilate on that fateful day.  Another part of the grace of the crucifixion of Jesus is that, although it was indeed a perfidious act, it constituted a portion of the process of atonement for sins–once and for all.

Certain powerful people, who found Jesus to be not only inconvenient but dangerous, thought they had gotten rid of him.  They could not have been more mistaken.  They had the power to kill him, but God resurrected him, thereby defeating their evil purposes.  God also used their perfidy to affect something positive for countless generations to come.  That was certainly a fine demonstration of the Sovereignty of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 4, 2016 COMMON ERA

PROPER 18:  THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF ALL CHRISTIAN PEACEMAKERS AND PEACE ACTIVISTS

THE FEAST OF PAUL JONES, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF UTAH AND PEACE ACTIVIST; AND HIS COLLEAGUE, JOHN NEVIN SAYRE, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND PEACE ACTIVIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/09/04/devotion-for-the-first-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-d/

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Showing Proper Reverence for God   1 comment

Annunciation of the Angel to Zechariah

Above:  Annunciation of the Angel to Zechariah, by Domenico Ghirlandaio

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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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Malachi 1:1-14

Psalm 8

Luke 1:1-25

Hebrews 1:1-2:4

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O LORD, our Sovereign,

how majestic is your name in all the earth!

–Psalm 8:1a, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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In Malachi 1 YHWH complains (via the prophet) that many people are taking their sacrifices lightly, offering unfit food and creatures in violations provided in the Torah.  (Consult Exodus 12:5 and 29:1 as well as Leviticus 1:3 and 10; 3:1; and 22:17-30 plus Deuteronomy 15:21 regarding animal sacrifices).  People in many lands honored God, but, in Persian-dominated Judea, where, of all places, that reverence should have been concentrated, many people were slacking off.

St. Zechariah, the father of St. John the Baptist, certainly revered God.  The old man was a priest at the Temple at Jerusalem.  He and his wife, St. Elizabeth, the Gospel of Luke tells us,

were upright ad devout, blamelessly observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord.

–1:6, The Revised English Bible (1989)

In an echo of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 17:15-22 and 18:1-15, each account coming from a different source), the elderly priest learned that he and his wife would become parents against all odds.  He was predictably dubious.  The prediction of a miracle and a marvel, to borrow language from Hebrews 2:4, came true.

Hebrews 2:3 provides a timeless warning against neglecting

such a great salvation

The New Jerusalem Bible (1985).

That salvation is the offer of God, who made the aged Abraham and Sarah parents and did the same for the elderly Sts. Zechariah and Elizabeth.  It is the offer of God, who chose St. Mary of Nazareth to become an instrument of the Incarnation.  It is the offer of God, the name of when many people all over the world honor.  May we revere God and strive, by grace, to offer our best, not our leftovers and spares in sacrifice.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 19, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ANNE HUTCHINSON, REBELLIOUS PURITAN

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM HAMMOND, ENGLISH MORAVIAN HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/devotion-for-the-first-sunday-of-advent-year-d/

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Inclusion and Exclusion   1 comment

Moses Prays for Miriam To Be Healed

Above:   Moses Prays for the Healing of Miriam

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and most merciful God, your bountiful goodness fills all creation.

Keep us safe from all that may hurt us,

that, whole and well in body and spirit,

we may with grateful hearts accomplish all that you would have us to do,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 14:33-53 (Thursday)

Numbers 4:34-5:4 (Friday)

Psalm 111 (Both Days)

2 Timothy 1:13-18 (Thursday)

2 Timothy 2:1-7 (Friday)

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Hallelujah!

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,

in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

–Psalm 111:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The word “leprosy,” in the Bible, has a broad definition, applying to a variety of diseases of the skin.  Such conditions also fall under the heading of ritual impurity (consult Numbers 5:2a) and require a time of isolation before one returns to one’s community and to a state of ritual purity (consult Leviticus 13).

In Numbers 12 Miriam spoke negatively of Moses.  Her punishment was a bad case of snow-white scales, which usually would have caused her to go away for two weeks.  It became seven days, however, due to the intercession of her esteemed brother.  The rabbinical name for her condition was metzora, from motzi’ shem ra’, or “uttering an evil name.”  Her sin was slander, but the object of that offense pleaded to God on her behalf.  A time of removal from the community was inevitable, but the goal of the leadership of that community was always restoration.

In Luke 5 Jesus healed a man with some kind of skin disease.  It was not leprosy, in the narrow, clinical definition of that term, but it was enough to render the man ritually impure and to isolate him from his community.  Then Jesus commanded him to obey the requirements of Leviticus 14 and not to tell anyone (other than the priest, per Leviticus 14).  Perhaps the man went to the priest, but he certainly spread the word, causing crowds to deny Jesus as much solitude as he needed.

Salvation was Christ’s primary task on the Earth; healing was something he did.  Did crowds come to him mostly to hear the words of salvation or to seek healing?  Quite often they flocked to him for the latter purpose.  There was nothing wrong with seeking wholeness and restoration, of course, but there was much more to Christ’s mission than individual wholeness and restoration.  There was, for example, collective wholeness and restoration.

A community cannot be at its best when people who should be part of it are not.  Such people might be outsiders by their choice or the decisions of others.  Many people are outsiders because self-identified insiders exclude them, often wrongly.  Frequently we human beings define ourselves negatively–according to who or what we are not.  This practice harms us and those we exclude improperly.  As Professor Luke Timothy Johnson says, one message in the Gospel of Mark is that those who think they are insiders might actually be outsiders.  And, as Edmond Browning, a former Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, writes, in Christ there are no outsiders.

May we who follow God (or at least attempt to do so) identify as children of God who bear the divine image and respect the image of God in our fellow human beings.  Theological and personality differences will persist, of course, but we need not seek to define ourselves negatively and, by extension, others in the same way.

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-saturday-before-proper-23-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Of Ritual Purity and Impurity   1 comment

Tabernacle

Above:   The Tabernacle

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and most merciful God, your bountiful goodness fills all creation.

Keep us safe from all that may hurt us,

that, whole and well in body and spirit,

we may with grateful hearts accomplish all that you would have us to do,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 14:33-53 (Thursday)

Numbers 4:34-5:4 (Friday)

Psalm 111 (Both Days)

2 Timothy 1:13-18 (Thursday)

2 Timothy 2:1-7 (Friday)

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Hallelujah!

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,

in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

–Psalm 111:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Merely approaching the place of worship is impossible for some people in Numbers 5.  The precincts of the Tabernacle are to be ritually pure, excluding

anyone with an eruption or a discharge and anyone defiled by a corpse.

–Verse 2a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This rule reflects the fear of ritual impurity as a contagion, albeit a temporary one.  A build up of ritual impurity would, the prevailing voice of Numbers 5:2a feared, endangered the Presence of God in the community.  That contagion even spread to walls affected by mildew or rot (Leviticus 14:33-53).  In Numbers 5, however, the carriers of ritual impurity were those with skin diseases, sexual discharges, and those defiled by a corpse.

When I consider healing stories in the Bible, especially those involving Jesus, the first criterion of ritual impurity is frequently germane; the second criterion is relevant at least once.  The healing of the afflicted person is in part a restoration of him or her to wholeness, community, and centers of worship.

I, as a Gentile, seldom think about ritual purity or purity in general, except in negative terms.  The self-proclaimed theologically pure seem always to define people of my perspective as impure, after all.  And, when I think deeply about ritual purity, I find that the concept offends me.  Why, for example, should a gynecological or dermatological condition render one ritually impure?  I know that the purpose of the ritual purity system in the Torah is to separate human matters of sex and death from the experience of encountering God.  To restate that, the purpose of the Biblical ritual purity system is to heighten one’s God-like state temporarily, therefore making one temporarily eligible to enter the Presence of God in the designated place of worship.  Yet what about the spiritual anguish of the good people among the ritually impure?

As much as I approve of the practice of approaching God with full reverence (including in one’s attire at worship) and therefore appreciate the sense of awe with which the Law of Moses treats the Tabernacle, I also detect an exclusionary tone.  That bothers me, for the grounds for exclusion seem to be biological and medical, not moral.  They seem immoral to me, therefore.  I have none of the conditions which might render me ritually impure, but I am nevertheless always ineligible to enter the Presence of God in worship, except by grace.  I, as a Christian, understand this grace to have much to do with Jesus of Nazareth.  That is a sound teaching.

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-and-friday-before-proper-23-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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