Archive for the ‘Mark 2’ Category

The Law of Moses, Faith, Works, and Justification   1 comment

Hezekiah

Above:  Hezekiah

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, throughout the ages you judge your people with mercy,

and you inspire us to speak your truth.

By your Spirit, anoint us for lives of faith and service,

and bring all people into your forgiveness,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 39

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Chronicles 29:1-19 (Monday)

2 Chronicles 30:1-12 (Tuesday)

2 Chronicles 30:13-27 (Wednesday)

Psalm 130 (All Days)

Galatians 3:1-9 (Monday)

Galatians 3:10-14 (Tuesday)

Mark 2:1-12 (Wednesday)

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For with Yahweh is faithful love,

with him generous ransom;

and he will ransom Israel

from all its sins.

–Psalm 130:7b-8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The Law of Moses receives positive treatment in 2 Chronicles 29 and 30.  Keeping it is an outward sign of devotion to God in the narrative from the reign of King Hezekiah.  After all, the theology of the Babylonian Exile is that it resulted from widespread and persistent disregard for the Law of Moses, especially those regarding idolatry and social injustice, especially economic exploitation and judicial corruption.

What are we to make, then, of St. Paul the Apostle’s attitude toward the Law of Moses?  The immediate context of Galatians 3 was the question of the relationship between faith and works with regard to justification with God.  St. Paul argued that justification with God occurs via faith alone, faith being inherently active; faith and works were, in the Apostle’s mind, a package deal.  He cited the example of Abraham, whose faith God reckoned as righteousness.  The author of the Letter of James cited that example also, but to argue that

a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

–James 3:24, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

For the author of James faith was intellectual and not inherently active, so the pairing of faith and works was crucial.  The men agreed that active faith was essential.

Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  He engaged in disputes with religious officials whose legalism amplified certain aspects of the Law of Moses while ignoring the mandate to practice mercy, also part of the law.  Our Lord and Savior argued that certain religious leaders taught the Law of Moses wrongly, not that the law was invalid.  The law, ideally, was something that would become part of one, that one would keep it in principle, bearing in mind that some parts of it were culturally specific examples, and not becoming bogged down in them.  It was something one was supposed to keep as a matter of reverence and gratitude, not legalism.  Perhaps St. Paul was objecting more to legalism than to the Law of Moses itself.  He was, after all, engaged in a dispute with Judaizers, who insisted that Gentile converts to Christianity (then a Jewish sect) became Jews first.  The context of argument contributed to taking an opposite position, not seeking a moderate position.

Jesus agreed with Rabbi Hillel, who summarized the Torah as loving God with all of one’s being.  Hillel continued,

The rest is commentary.  Go and learn it.

Much of that commentary consists of instructions (many of them culturally specific) about how to care for the vulnerable people in our midst.  May we Gentiles follow the lead of our Jewish brethren and ask ourselves how to apply those laws in our contexts.  Then may we live according to the divine mandate to love God fully and each other as we love ourselves.  May we do this out of reverence and gratitude, as an expression of faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 4, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PAUL CUFFEE, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY TO THE SHINNECOCK NATION

THE FEAST OF SAINT CASIMIR OF POLAND, PRINCE

THE FEAST OF EMANUEL CRONENWETT, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MARINUS OF CAESAREA, ROMAN SOLDIER AND CHRISTIAN MARTYR, AND ASTERIUS, ROMAN SENATOR AND CHRISTIAN MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-6-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Compassion and Identity   1 comment

Showbread

Above:  Priests Replacing the Showbread

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God,

throughout time you free the oppressed,

heal the sick,

and make whole all that you have made.

Look with compassion on the world wounded by sin,

and by your power restore us to wholeness of life,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 38

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 21:1-6

Psalm 78:1-4, 52-72

John 5:1-18

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Yet still they tested God Most High and rebelled against him,

and would not keep his commandments.

–Psalm 78:56, Common Worship (2000)

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Falling into legalism is at least as bad as having disregard for divine law.  Both errors arrive at the same destination:  missing the mark, which is the definition of sin.

One must, if one is to be thorough, read the Gospel of John in the context of its composition:  rising tensions between Jews and Christians.  Many of the latter category were also Jews, but they had become marginalized within Judaism.  Thus invective infected the text of the Johannine Gospel.  The “scribes and Pharisees” of the Synoptic Gospels became “the Jews.”  Jews were labeling other Jews “the Jews.”

That does not mean, however, that the Johannine Gospel contains no history.  We ought, however, to read it with an awareness and understanding of the filters.

The story in John 5:1-18, as we have received it, is one of Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath, identifying God as his (Jesus’s) father, and contending with plots because of these actions and words.  According to the Law of Moses, the penalty for profaning the Sabbath is death, as is the punishment for committing blasphemy.  These were the charges against our Lord and Savior in the story.  The man Jesus healed even had to contend with charges of carrying his mat on the Sabbath (John 5:10).  He got off, though, for accusers found a “juicier” target.

Legalism–born out of respect for divine commandments–is misguided because it transforms the laws into idols.  A legalist is so lost among the proverbial trees that he or she cannot contextualize them within the forest.  Often attitudes and actions lacking compassion flow from legalism, as in the pericope from John 5.  Was joy that a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years was now able-bodied too much to muster?

Part of the socio-economic-political context of the story is the central role of Sabbath keeping in defining Jewish community, especially while living under Roman occupation.  Indeed, the importance of keeping the Sabbath as a way of setting the Hebrew community apart from its neighbors and its recent plight in slavery in Egypt forms part of the background of the Sabbath laws in Exodus 31:12-18.  I am not a rugged individualist, for I affirm that we humans depend entirely on God and rely upon each other and each other’s labor.  Others assembled the car I drive and paved the roads I paved the roads I travel on the way to work, for example.  A community focus in society can be positive, for we are all responsible to and for each other.  But community ought never to crush an individual.

Our Lord and Savior did more than heal on the Sabbath.  He and his twelve Apostles, for example, also gleaned food from fields, for they were hungry.  Some people criticized them for doing that too.  Jesus, in Matthew 12:3-4, Mark 2:25-26, and Luke 6:3-4, cited the precedent of David in 1 Samuel 21:1-6.  David, then fighting a civil war against King Saul, was hungry one day.  He acquired food by lying (claiming to be on a secret mission for Saul) to a priest, who gave him the Bread of the Presence, which only priests were supposed to eat.  To consume that bread was to commune with God, according to theology at the time.  The author of that story did not condemn David, but Saul condemned the priest to death for aiding an enemy.

Our Lord and Savior’s purpose in citing that precedent was to say that breaking ritual law in a time of need is permissible.  If saving a life, according to that standard, how is healing a man paralyzed for 38 years beyond the pale?  And how does anyone have so little compassion (if any) as to complain about the day of the week on which someone commits a good deed?

Identity matters a great deal, but compassion is more important.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 13, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PLATO OF SYMBOLEON AND THEODORE STUDITES, EASTERN ORTHODOX ABBOTS; AND SAINT NICEPHORUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, PATRIARCH

THE FEAST OF SAINT HELDRAD, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINTS RODERIC OF CABRA AND SOLOMON OF CORDOBA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/13/devotion-for-wednesday-after-proper-4-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Apocalypses   1 comment

Destruction of Jerusalem by Ercole de' Roberti

Above:  The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Titus, A.D. 70, by David Roberts

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Lord of the feast, you have prepared a table before all peoples

and poured out your life with abundance.

Call us again to your banquet.

Strengthen us by what is honorable, just, and pure,

and transform us into a people or righteousness and peace,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 24:17-23

Psalm 23

Mark 2:18-22

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Psalm 23 presents a pristine, pleasant picture of verdant pastures, safety in God, and an overflowing cup.  That is the opposite of Isaiah 24, in which God pronounced judgment on the sinful Earth.  Leading up to that chapter we read of divine judgment on various nations (including the Kingdom of Judah) and a condemnation of official corruption.  Divine redemption of Judah and human thanksgiving for God’s deliverance of the people from oppression follow Isaiah 24 immediately.  Destruction of the wicked order makes room for the new world of righteousness.

I detect an apocalyptic note in Mark 2:18-22 also.  The disciples of Jesus will not fast until

the bridegroom is taken away from them

–2:20a, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985).

The canonical Gospels contain openly apocalyptic sections, especially in proximity to the Passion of Jesus.  That seems appropriate, given the nature of crucifixion and the Roman imperial use of violence.

I have noticed two unhelpful extremes in theology and Bible-based art.   One is fixating on the pleasant, so that Jesus usually smiles, for example.  The other is to focus on doom, gloom, destruction, and judgment.  Both contain true elements, of course, but the error is fixating on one extreme so as to deny or minimize its opposite.  So, avoid extremism, I note that the rescue of people from oppressors is good news for the oppressed and bad news for the oppressors and their allies.  May none of us be like those who mourn the fall of Babylon in Revelation 18.

Sometimes we mere mortals find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, so we suffer and lament.

Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days!

–Mark 13:17, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That is the unfortunate reality of many people in parts of the world, is it not?  Yet we humans may hope for a better time.  We might even function as partners with God to improve circumstances.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 29, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE BEHEADING OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN BUNYAN, PROTESTANT SPIRITUAL WRITER

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/devotion-for-saturday-before-proper-23-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Genesis and Mark, Part V: Sin and Attitudes   1 comment

cain-and-abel

Above:  Cain and Abel

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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 everlasting 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:

Genesis 4:1-26

Psalm 84 (Morning)

Psalms 42 and 32 (Evening)

Mark 2:18-28

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Some Related Posts:

Mark 2:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/week-of-2-epiphany-monday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/week-of-2-epiphany-tuesday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/eighth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-b/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/proper-3-year-b/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/07/22/proper-4-year-b/

Prayer:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/prayer-for-the-first-sunday-in-lent/

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-first-sunday-in-lent/

Prayer of Confession:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/prayer-of-confession-for-the-first-sunday-in-lent/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-first-sunday-in-lent/

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Much time had passed since the days when the Law of Moses was relatively new.  Lifestyles had changed, as had social, cultural, and political realities.  Yet, within Judaism, the Law of Moses remained a divine instructions.  So teachers interpreted the Law to fit within their then-current contexts.  That was essential background for grasping correctly one reason that Jesus irritated so many people so much.  Keeping the Law just so was not a mater of maliciousness; it was an issue of both righteousness and identity, as practitioners understood them.

Jesus walks around, heals many people on the Sabbath, plucks ears of corn on the Sabbath, and eats with notorious sinners.  In so doing he called into question the basis of the lived faith of many people.  He was courting danger.  I wonder, in fact, how well many self-described Christians of today would respond to a preacher who questioned traditional doctrines and practices and dined with notorious sinners.  I leave that question with you, O reader.  And I ask how I would respond to such a person.

Jesus argued by words and words that his critics had gotten the Law wrong.  They had ossified it, despite their attempts to reinterpret it for new circumstances.  They had focused so much on arbitrary rules that they had overlooked human necessities.  They needed to be flexible.  They needed to allow for grace more than they did.

Meanwhile, in Genesis 4, there were two brothers–Cain, an agriculturalist, and Abel, a pastoralist.  Both made offerings to God, who accepted that of Abel but rejected that of Cain.  The story implies (by lack of details concerning Cain’s offering) that his was substandard.  The text does indicate clearly that Cain had a bad attitude.  He did kill Abel, after all.  Yet the murderer came under divine protection.  He lived the rest of his life in exile, but he had divine protection.  Grace and judgment coexisted.

God, addressing Cain in verse 7 said,

Surely if you do right,

There is uplift.

But if you do not do right

Sin crouches at the door;

It urge is toward you,

Yet you can be its master.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scripures

The image of sin crouching at the door as if to ambush one is vivid.  Sin mastered the character of Cain.  That was not a foregone conclusion, though.  And sin need not master any of us.  I suspect that when sin approaches most often, it does so dressed up as righteousness.  In Mark 2, it convinced some people because it came in the guise of Sabbath law.

We must be on guard against the appearance of righteousness without the substance thereof.  And we must also mind our attitudes.  Cain had a bad attitude in Genesis 4.  Our Lord’s opponents in Mark 2 also had bad attitudes.  A good attitude alone is insufficient for righteousness, but it cannot hurt–and it can help.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 7, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMITION OF HUY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP

THE FEAST OF HARRIET STARR CANNON, COFOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY OF SAINT MARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROSE VENERINI, FOUNDER OF THE VENERINI SISTERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEODARD OF NARBONNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP, AND SAINTS JUSTUS AND PASTOR, MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/devotion-for-the-first-sunday-in-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Genesis and Mark, Part IV: Sin and Food   1 comment

st-gregory-the-great

Above:  St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, October 31, 2010

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

(https://picasaweb.google.com/114749828757741527421/BishopWhitmoreVisitsStGregorySAthens#5534662619157616338)

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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 everlasting 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:

Genesis 3:1-24

Psalm 43 (Morning)

Psalms 31 and 143 (Evening)

Mark 2:1-17

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Some Related Posts:

Genesis 3:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/week-of-5-epiphany-friday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/week-of-5-epiphany-saturday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/proper-5-year-b/

Mark 2:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/19/week-of-1-epiphany-friday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/week-of-1-epiphany-saturday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/week-of-1-epiphany-friday-year-2/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/week-of-1-epiphany-saturday-year-2/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/seventh-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-b/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/eighth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-b/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/proper-2-year-b/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/proper-3-year-b/

Prayer:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/22/prayer-for-saturday-after-ash-wednesday/

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The LORD spoke further to Moses:  Speak to Aaron and say:  No man of your offspring throughout the ages who has a defect shall be qualified to offer the food of his God.  No one at all who has a defect shall be qualified:  no man who is blind, or lame, or has a limb too short or too long; no man who has a broken leg or a broken arm; or who is a hunchback, or a dwarf, or who has a growth in his eye, or who has a boil-scar, or scruvy, or crushed testes.  No man among the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a defect shall be qualified to offer the food of his God.  He may eat of the food of his  God, of the most holy as well as of the holy; but he shall not enter behind the curtain or come near the altar, for he has a defect.  He shall not profane the places sacred to Me, for I the LORD have sanctified them.

Thus Moses spoke to Aaron and his sons and to all the Israelites.

–Leviticus 21:16-24, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

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On the day that you elevate the sheaf, you shall offer as a burnt offering to the LORD a lamb of the first year without blemish.

–Leviticus 23:12, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

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The mythology in Genesis 3 tells  the familiar tale of the eating of forbidden fruit and of the subsequent blaming of one another for one’s sin.  In the story Adam is responsible for his sin and Eve for hers.  The cost they paid entailed exile from the Garden of Eden.

Sin is a word I hear used often.  Yet I wonder how many people know what it means.  The catechism from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer defines sin as

…the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.  (page 848)

And, as Paragraph 705 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains,

Disfigured by sin and death, man remains “in the image of God,” in the image of the Son, but is deprived of “the glory of God,” of his “likeness.” The promise made to Abraham inaugurates the economy of salvation, at which the Son himself will assume that “image” and restore it in the Father’s “likeness” by giving it again its Glory, the Spirit who is “the giver of life.”

(The scriptural citations in the notes to this paragraph are Romans 3:23, John 1:14, and Philippians 2:7.)

Concern over maintaining the image of God provided the rationale for the list of “defects” which disqualified one from offering sacrifices to God in Leviticus 21:16-24.  And a sacrificial lamb had to be unblemished.  Furthermore, there was, at the time of Jesus, a long-standing assumed connection between sin and suffering, despite the Book of Job.  So the physically disabled and different had to cope with that attitude.  Certainly many of them internalized it.

Thus we arrive at Mark 2 and the paralyzed man with some very good friends.  Jesus treated all the man’s needs.  Our Lord, the author tells us, also attracted criticisms.  As a sign I have reads,

FOR EVERY ACTION THERE IS AN EQUAL AND OPPOSITE CRITICISM.

Next in the Markan sequence Jesus calls Levi/Matthew, literally a tax thief for the occupying forces, to be an Apostle.  Then our Lord dines with Levi/Matthew and other notorious sinners and outcast people, attracting more criticism.

Jesus liked outcasts.  So far in Mark 2, for example, he has healed one, called another to be a close associate, and dined with a group.

Table fellowship was a serious matter for observant Pharisees and other Jews.  It was a question of maintaining one’s identity as a member of a visible minority.  This fact explains much of why many early Jewish Christians insisted that Gentile converts to Christianity become Jews and obey the Law of Moses.  I propose that Jesus also took table fellowship seriously–but as a means of including people, not excluding them, as a means of associating with them, not keeping oneself apart from them.

I have heard a Russian proverb:

A good meal is not one eats but with whom one eats.

Perceptions of sin–real or imagined, depending on circumstances–need not separate us from God or each other.  We are all in the big boat of sin.  And God forgives quite often.  When God draws near, may we reciprocate.

At my parish, St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, we take the Holy Eucharist each Sunday.  (The 1979 Book of Common Prayer defines taking the Holy Eucharist as the central act of Christian worship.  In pre-1979 BCP days, it was common to take communion less often than every Sunday.)  Printed in the Sunday bulletin at St. Gregory the Great Church is this invitation:

Whoever you are and wherever you are in your journey of faith, know that you are welcome to join with us at the table of the Lord and to share in the bread and wine made holy.

And it is an excellent meal.  Jesus there in the bread and wine.  And the company is excellent.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 2, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIGISMUND OF BURBGUNDY, KING; SAINT CLOTILDA, FRANKISH QUEEN; AND SAINT CLODOALD, FRANKISH MONK AND ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT ATHANASIUS OF ALEXANDRIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JAMES LEWIS MILLIGAN, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCULF OF NANTEUIL, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/devotion-for-the-fourth-day-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Love, the Final Arbiter   2 comments

Above:  A Corn Field

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Hebrews 6:10-20 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed us for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.  And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the same assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

For when God made a promise to to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore to himself, saying,

Surely I will bless you and multiply you.

And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise.  Men indeed swear by a greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.  So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he interposed with an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God should prove false, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us.  We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, and a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek.

Psalm 111 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hallelujah!

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

in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

2 Great are the deeds of the LORD!

they are studied by all who delight in them.

3 His work is full of majesty and splendor,

and his righteousness endures for ever.

4 He makes his marvelous works to be remembered;

the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.

He gives food to those who fear him;

he is ever mindful of his covenant.

6 He has shown his people the power of his works

in giving them the lands of the nations.

7 The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice;

all his commandments are sure.

8 They stand fast for ever and ever,

because they are done in truth and equity.

He sent redemption to his people;

he commanded his covenant for ever;

holy and awesome is his Name.

10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;

those who act accordingly have a good understanding;

his praise endures for ever.

Mark 2:23-28 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.  And the Pharisees said to him,

Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?

And he said to them,

Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him; how he entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the showbread, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?

And he said to them,

The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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The Pharisees (most, not all of them) are among the bete noires of the canonical Gospels.  These very publicly pious people criticize Jesus, his Apostles, and even some people he healed again and again.  In all likelihood these critics did what they understood righteousness to require of them.  I prefer to extend to them the benefit of the doubt; they were wrong, but sincerely so.  They did not wake up each morning and plot how to be difficult spiritually, although much of what they did and the Gospels report to us constituted such.

Indeed, I think that we need to check ourselves for signs of being contemporary counterparts of the Pharisees.  Christian denominations have built up traditions over thousands and hundreds of years.  Many of these are functional and constructive, even beautiful.  Yet even something useful and beautiful can become an idol, if we transform it into that.  And ossification of tradition can occur easily, rendering us inflexible in the habits of our minds.  The stories of Jesus teach us many valuable lessons, including the importance of avoiding such ossification.

Consider this day’s reading from Mark.  Jesus and his Apostles violated many sabbath laws observant Pharisees kept.  There were many arcane sabbath laws, which split hairs more finely than any Philadelphia lawyer.  Taken together, the sabbath laws permitted preventing an emergency situation from getting worse yet forbade making it better.  For example, one could apply a plain bandage but not ointment to an injured finger on the sabbath.  So you should not be surprised to learn that plucking and eating corn was illegal on the sabbath.  Doing so remedied hunger, but that meant making something better.

This is a twisted way to think about the sabbath, is it not?  It transforms the sabbath, which is supposed to a gift and a marker of freedom (slaves did not get days off) into a burden and something to manage with the help of a very long checklist of forbidden activities.  Puritans did it too, and many observant self-professing Christians and Jews continue to treat the sabbath in this way.  We should not neglect the sabbath, of course, but we ought not treat it like a burden and an occasion of legalism, either.

Back to our story….

Jesus reminded his critics of scriptural precedents for what he had done.  In 1 Samuel 21:1-6, Exodus 25:23-30, and Leviticus 24:9 we find the relevant information about David and the showbread.  Mentioning David, the revered king, was powerful rhetorical tool, although it certainly did not impress hyper-critical Pharisees.  It did, however, point out the hypocrisy of Jesus’ critics, who were not the intended audience for the Gospel According to Mark.  So the comment finds its target even today, at least some of the time.  I wonder, though, how often well-intentioned Christians miss the power of this story, perhaps more out of a “I know that story already” attitude, if nothing else.

William Barclay, in his insightful commentary on the Gospel reading, points out that

Religion does not consist in rules and regulations

and

The best way to use sacred things is to use them for men.

In other words, it is sinful to refuse to apply religious laws to prevent starving and very hungry people from eating–sabbath or not.  This principle applies to physical realities beyond hunger; it pertains to helping people with whatever distresses them.  Barclay concludes his section of the reading from Mark with this sentence:

The final arbiter in the use of all things is love and not law.

I could not have said it better.

We have a loving God and Lord.  The works of God are marvelous and utterly spectacular.  And Jesus became not only our priest but our passover lamb.  That demonstrates love, does it not?  So we ought to display love, as well, and not hide behind laws which reinforce self-righteousness and make excuses for oppressing people and not helping them.   We have a mandate from God to care for others and to love them as we love ourselves.  God has commanded us to care for the vulnerable among us.  We might make excuses for why we fail to do this, but that does not erase our sin in the eyes of God.

One of my favorite deceased people was the actor Andreas Katsulas (1946-2006).  He played the one-armed man in the film version of The Fugitive.  He also portrayed Commander Tomalok on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Ambassador G’Kar on Babylon 5.  Katsulas was a practicing Greek Orthodox and an excellent chef.  Part of his Sunday ritual involved cooking meals for homeless people.  This would have violated the Pharisees’ sabbath codes, but it did demonstrate love.

May we compete with one another in demonstrating love for our fellow human beings every day of the week.  Let us lay aside tendencies toward one upsmanship, self-righteousness, and public displays of piety meant to make us look good.  May we listen to one another more and more often, and shout at each other less and less often.  May we love one another in attitudes, words, and deeds.  May that be our law.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 23, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHURCHILL JULIUS, ANGLICAN ARCHBISHOP OF NEW ZEALAND

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/week-of-2-epiphany-tuesday-year-1/

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Enjoying God and Life   1 comment

Above:  Spring Flowers

Image Source = Anita Martinz

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Hebrews 5:1-10 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.  He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.  Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as those of the people.  And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was.

So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,

You are my Son,

today I have begotten you;

as he says also in other place,

You are a priest for ever,

according to the order of Melchizedek.

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear.  Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Psalm 110 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand,

until I make your enemies your footstool.”

The LORD will send the scepter of your power out of Zion,

saying, “Rule over your enemies round about you.

Princely state has been yours from the day of your birth;

in the beauty of holiness have I begotten you,

like dew from the womb of the morning.”

The LORD has sworn and he will not recant;

“You are a priest for ever in the order of Melchizedek.”

The Lord who is at your right hand

will smite kings in the day of his wrath;

he will rule over the nations.

He will heap high the corpses;

he will smash heads over the wide earth.

He will drink from the brook beside the road;

therefore he will lift high his head.

Mark 2:18-22 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him,

Why do John’s disciples and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?

And Jesus said to them,

Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?  As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.  The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.  No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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What is the chief and highest end of man?

Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

–Question #1 from the Westminster Larger Catechism (1647), as printed in The Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (1965)

I am a ritualist.  I admit this fact freely and without compunction.  Rituals are crucial to the healthy maintenance of society, and anyone who says otherwise is mistaken.  Ritualism is like any other good thing in so far as that it can become a bad thing if one takes it too far, though.  An icon is something or someone through which we see God; an idol distracts us from God.  A ritual can be either an icon or an idol, depending on what we choose to make it.

Consider fasting, for example.  This can be a healthy spiritual exercise.  Yet, when one approaches it from the wrong angle, fasting becomes an occasion of pride, not humility.  First Century C.E. Palestinian Judaism came with one compulsory fast day, the Day of Atonement.  Many especially observant Jews chose to fast from 6:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. each Monday and Thursday, too.  There was no fault in this practice, assuming that one did not approach it as a way to display one’s holiness before others and hopefully to attract God’s favor.  Jesus rejected such displays, preferring instead to enjoy food, often in the company of disreputable people, as in the Gospel reading from Saturday.  Now that was a different kind of display, was it not?

How would you react or respond if your pastor or priest spent much time dining with disreputable people, not engaging in public activities associated commonly with holiness?  How long would he or she remain in your parish or mission congregation?  Think about it.  The more we are like Jesus, the less respectable we become.  The Jesus of many imaginations is a respectable, even bourgeoisie, figure.  This version of Jesus is a fiction.  The real Jesus was scandalous.  And we are called to follow him.

And Jesus enjoyed life, eating much food and drinking much wine.  He savored wonderful conversation, too.  Enjoying life is a call of every Christian, therefore.  From time to time  I have had the great displeasure of meeting and having to spend too much time in the company of a self-professing Christian with no apparent sense of humor.  You, O reader, might have had the same experience.  Life is a gift of God; let us enjoy it in God and glorify God through it.

May we delight in all that is beautiful, good, and meritorious.  Koholeth, the author of Ecclesiastes, reminds us that there is a time and a season for everything. Taking proper times and seasons into account is part of determining if something is beautiful, good, and meritorious.  We follow the greatest high priest, who can and does identify with us.  The fact of his Incarnation, followed by his life and our Atonement, ought to comfort us.  So why should we walk around looking as if our parents weaned us on dill pickles?

Laugh. Chortle.  Have a good belly laugh.  Enjoy staring at cloud formations.  Dare I say it, even tell atrocious puns.  Savor a well-written novel or poem.  And enjoy God during all of it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 23, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHURCHILL JULIUS, ANGLICAN ARCHBISHOP OF NEW ZEALAND

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/week-of-2-epiphany-monday-year-1/

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Posted January 4, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Hebrews, Mark 2, Psalm 110

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