Archive for the ‘Matthew 17’ Category

Faithfulness and Egos   Leave a comment

Above:  Moses Striking the Rock, by Pieter de Grebber

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty God, who hast created man in thine own image:

grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil, and to make no peace with oppression;

and, that we may reverently use our freedom,

help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice among men and nations, to the glory of thy holy name;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 120

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Deuteronomy 34:1-8

Ephesians 4:10-16

Matthew 17:1-8

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The assigned readings for this day give us two mountains–in Deuteronomy 34 and Matthew 17.

The sin of Moses in Numbers 20:9-13 was the lack of trust in God.  He disobeyed orders, striking the rock–twice, actually–instead of speaking to it–to release the water contained therein.  He took glory intended for the Name of God.  Also, as one Jewish commentary on the Book of Numbers has taught me regarding this passage, wrath and leadership ought not to go together.  Moses and Aaron, having become resigned by the continued faithlessness of their people, lost faith in the continuity of the divine faithfulness to those people.  Therefore, Moses did not cross over into the Promised Land; he did see it, though.

Ephesians 4:10-16 reminds us that spiritual gifts exist for the glory of God and the building up of faith communities, not the sake of the ego and the reputation of those who receive those gifts.  We are stewards of our spiritual gifts.

The account of the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17, set en route to die in Jerusalem, reminds us of the full glory of Jesus shortly prior to his Passion.  We read of the presence of Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the prophets), figures who, although great, were not as great as Jesus.  One should note the story of the assumption of Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-18) as well as Deuteronomy 34:6, which tells us that God buried Moses.  An especially observant reader of ancient Jewish traditions knows of the alleged assumption of Moses.

Losing faith in divine promises is relatively easy, for God frequently acts in ways that defy our expectations.  The problem is human, not divine.  Faithlessness is not always malicious, but it does indicate weakness.  Yet, as Martin Luther insisted, we can trust in the faithfulness of God, even when we lose faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 1, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS

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Living in Community, Part III   3 comments

Above:  St. Peter Paying the Temple Tax

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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Genesis 43:1-15, 26-30 or Isaiah 55:1-13

Psalm 28

1 Corinthians 10:19-33

Matthew 17:22-18:5

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We have obligations to each other.  Even what we do (or do not do) in private affects other people.  We should, for example, want scoundrels and wicked people to repent (as in Isaiah 55:7), not give up on them (as in Psalm 28:4).  We should seek reconciliation, as Joseph was preparing to instigate, in Genesis 43.  We should not abuse our freedom to the detriment of others.  In Christ we are free to become our best selves.

The story in Matthew 17:24-27 requires unpacking.

The tax in question was the Temple tax of one didrachmon–a half-shekel.  Every Jewish male was to pay it annually, although enforcement was not rigorous.  The scriptural basis of the Temple tax was Exodus 30:13.  It was a controversial tax for more than one reason.  For the poor the tax–two days’ wages of a laborer–was a burden.  Essenes argued that the tax was properly a once-in-a-lifetime payment.  Sadducees thought that the tax should be voluntary.  Jesus, who seemed to have a low opinion of taxation (see also Matthew 22:15-22), nevertheless decided not to cause offense.

I have no difficulty accepting this story as genuine.  Yet it, like so many stories, carries more than one meaning, depending on the time of the reading or hearing of it.  Consider, O reader, the year of the composition of the Gospel of Matthew–85 C.E. or so.

There was no more Temple yet a version of tax remained.  Roman forces had destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 C.E.  A two-drachma tribute to Rome was due annually, and Roman authorities enforced tax laws.  In the Christian context giving to the church was properly voluntary.  For Jewish Christians, marginal within Judaism, their identity remained Jewish; they did not seek to offend.

In my cultural-political setting–North America in 2018–the culture is moving in more than one direction simultaneously.  On one hand politics and culture are coarsening.  On the other hand efforts to avoid causing offense are become more prominent, sometimes to ridiculous extremes.  Meanwhile, people from various points on the spectrum have become more likely to take offense.  “Snowflakes” come in various political stripes.  Everything is controversial; there is probably nothing that does not offend somebody, somewhere.

I, as a human being, have responsibilities to my fellow human beings, who have responsibilities to me.  I, for example, have no moral right to spout racial and ethnic slurs and/or stereotypes, not that I would ever do that.  Quoting them in certain contexts, in which one’s disapproval is plain, is justifiable, however.  I have a responsibility to consider the sensibilities of others–to a reasonable point.  Yet I know that, whatever I do, I will offend someone, for somebody will be of a mind to take offense.  I am responsible for doing my best to be respectful.  I am also responsible to others not to be ridiculously sensitive, thereby doing nothing or too little.

Where should one draw the line separating responsible self-restraint in the name of not offending the consciences of others from overdoing it and still failing in not causing offense because some people are snowflakes?  The answer to that question varies according to circumstances.  One, relying on grace, should do one’s best.  If one needs to do better, one can do that, by grace.  One is not responsible for the thin skins of others.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 28, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF AMBROSE OF MILAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT MONICA OF HIPPO, MOTHER IF SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO; AND SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF HIPPO REGIUS

THE FEAST OF DENIS WORTMAN, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF LAURA S. COPERHAVER, U.S. LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER AND MISSIONARY LEADER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MOSES THE BLACK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/08/28/devotion-for-proper-21-year-a-humes/

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Divine Glory and Sacrificial Love   1 comment

Above:  The Transfiguration, by Raphael

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-90565

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Exodus 24:12-18

Psalm 2

2 Peter 1:16-21

Matthew 17:1-9 (or 1-13)

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Interestingly, the Transfiguration account in Matthew follows on the heels of Jesus saying,

Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.

–16:28, The New American Bible (1991)

In that scene, Jesus, looking very much like Moses (and standing with Moses and Elijah) on a mountaintop, stands in divine glory.  We can read another version of the Transfiguration in Luke 9:28-36, shortly before Jesus sets his face literally and figuratively toward Jerusalem–to die.

It is appropriate that we read of the Transfiguration on the Sunday immediately preceding Lent, at the end of which are Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  We are supposed to recall the supreme divine love behind the Incarnation and the Atonement, as well as to remember that God calls us to love like Jesus, who loved all the way to a cross.

That is a variety of love that carries a high price tag.  The grace, although free, is certainly not cheap.  It is, however, the path to life at its fullest and most abundant.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 23, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS GREGORY THE ILLUMINATOR AND ISAAC THE GREAT, PATRIARCHS OF ARMENIA

THE FEAST OF MEISTER ECKHART, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN AND MYSTIC

THE FEAST OF SAINT METODEJ DOMINIK TRCKA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICTORIAN OF HADRUMETUM, MARTYR AT CARTHAGE, 484

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2018/03/23/devotion-for-transfiguration-sunday-year-a-humes/

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Proclaiming Jesus the Son of God   1 comment

Above:   St. Joseph, by William Dyce

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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Isaiah 7:10-17

Isaiah 12 (at least verses 2-6)

Romans 1:1-7

Matthew 1:18-24

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Ahaz, King of Judah (reigned 743/735-727/715 B.C.E.) was hardly a pious monotheist.  In fact, he practiced idolatry openly.  2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28 gave him scathing reviews.  Ahaz, confronted with an alliance of Israel and Aram against him, chose to rely on Assyria, not God.  That was a really bad decision.  Nevertheless, God sent a sign of deliverance; a young woman of the royal court would have a baby boy.  God would not only protect Judah but judge it also.

Surely God is our salvation, but how often do we take the easy way out and not trust in God?  When God arrives in the form of a helpless infant, as in Matthew 1, one might not recognize the divine presence.  What we expect to see might prevent us from seeing what is in front of us for what it is.  God approaches us in many guises, many of them unexpected.

At first reading Romans 1:4 might seem surprising, perhaps even similar to the Adoptionist heresy.

…and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord….

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

One might think of John 1:1-18, which declares that the Son is co-eternal with the Father.  One might also ponder the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34) as well as the preceding testimony of St. John the Baptist in each Gospel.  One might even recall the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17:1-13; Luke 9:28-36).

The proclamation mentioned in Romans 1:4 need not contradict those other proclamations.  No, one should interpret it as a subsequent proclamation that Jesus was the Son of God.  One should notice the theological context in Romans 1:  Easter as the beginning and foretaste of the prophesied age of divine rule on Earth.

“Kingdom of God” has more than one meaning in the New Testament.  Usually, though, it indicates divine rule on Earth.  This kingdom is evident in the ministry of Jesus in the Gospels, written after the death of St. Paul the Apostle.  The Kingdom of God is both present and future; it is here, yet not fully.

As we, being intellectually honest readers of scripture, acknowledge the existence of certain disagreements regarding the dawning of the age of God, according to St. Paul and the authors of the canonical Gospels, may we also never cease to trust in God, regardless of how much evil runs rampant and how much time has elapsed since the times of Jesus and St. Paul.  God keeps a schedule we do not see.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 15, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZACHARY OF ROME, POPE

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JAN ADALBERT BALICKI AND LADISLAUS FINDYSZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS IN POLAND

THE FEAST OF OZORA STEARNS DAVIS, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF VETHAPPAN SOLOMON, APOSTLE TO THE NICOBAR ISLANDS

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2018/03/15/devotion-for-the-fourth-sunday-of-advent-year-a-humes/

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Metaphors and Repentance   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Transfiguration

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be to us both a sacrifice for sin,

and also an example of godly life:

Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit,

and also daily endeavor ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life;

through the same your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), pages 95-96

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Exodus 33:18-23

Psalm 40

Hebrews 12:18-29

Matthew 17:1-9

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The safest language to use when writing or speaking of the nature of God is that of poetic metaphors.  God is like a father.  God is like a mother eagle.  God is like a consuming fire.  God is literally none of these, and each of them is insufficient for the task of describing God adequately.  No human language can accomplish that job.

Perhaps anthropomorphizing God is impossible for a human being, for each of us has a human perspective.  The Bible contains much anthropomorphizing of the divine.  A ubiquitous assumption in the Hebrew Bible is that God has some kind of physical (probably human) form.  Related to that assumption, as in Exodus 33:18-23, is that to see the divine face is, in the words of a note from The Jewish Study Bible-Second Edition (2014),

too awesome for humans to survive.

–Page 179

That sense of the lethal holiness of God is absent from stories of Abraham, who literally walked with God, according to Genesis.  That sense of the lethal holiness of God is also absent from all the stories of Jesus.

The reading from Exodus 33 occurs within a narrative setting.  Prior to it Moses is pleading with God, who is refusing to dwell among the Hebrews.  In Chapter 34 God renews the covenant.  Then, in the construction of the Tabernacle (to replace the tent pitched outside the camp in Chapter 33) occurs and the Presence of the LORD fills the Tabernacle.

There is never a bad time to recommit to God, of course.  The season of Lent is a liturgical time set apart to emphasize such matters.  We all need reminders, do we not?  Fortunately, the church calendar proves helpful in that regard.  May we respond faithfully year-round to God, whose compassion is great, who desires that all turn to Him, who balances judgment in mercy in ways we cannot imagine, whose nature eludes us, and who approaches us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT:  THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON, ABOLITIONIST AND FEMINIST; AND MARIA STEWART, ABOLITIONIST, FEMINIST, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB AND DOROTHY BUXTON, FOUNDERS OF SAVE THE CHILDREN

THE FEAST OF FRANK MASON NORTH, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER

THE FEAST OF MARY CORNELIA BISHOP GATES, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED HYMN WRITER

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The Sovereignty of God   1 comment

Above:   Paying the Tax with a Coin from the Fish

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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Genesis 27:1-10, 18-19, 26-33, 38-40

Psalm 12

Acts 4:23-31

Matthew 17:24-27

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O LORD, watch over us

and save us from this generation for ever.

The wicked prowl on every side,

and that which is worthless is highly prized by everyone.

–Psalm 12, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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One of the primary challenges understanding the Bible is the fact that we moderns come from different cultural and intellectual backgrounds than the ancients did.  The Biblical texts leave much unwritten because members of the original audiences did not require the explanation of every germane assumption.  Consider, O reader, blessings and curses.  By curses I refer not to profane and coarse language, but to the opposite of blessings.  One assumption in the Hebrew Bible is that spoken blessings and curses have power.  Oral blessings and curses are motifs in the Old Testament.  In this case the second son steals the blessing (due to the first son) by fooling an aging and blind father.  The stolen blessing, however, still has power.  Furthermore, God works through the blessing and the act of stealing it.

The theme of the sovereignty of God continues in the readings.  The promises of God are sure in Psalm 12, even though people exalt vileness.  In Acts 4 religious persecution becomes an opportunity certain early Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the faith boldly.

The Gospel reading requires much explanation.  A standard exegesis is that the tax in question was the Temple tax.  However, Father Raymond E. Brown questions this conclusion in his magisterial An Introduction to the New Testament (1997).  He proposes that, since Matthew 17:24-27 does not identify the tax as the Temple tax, it might have been a different tax–perhaps the census tax mentioned in Matthew 22:15-22.  Or, if one assumes that the tax in Matthew 17:24-27 was the Temple tax, one might surmise that post-70 C.E. realities inform the telling of the story.  With the destruction of the Temple and the continuation of the Temple tax, the purpose of said tax had shifted to support the temple of Jupiter on the Temple Mount.

The real issue is the sovereignty of God.  The Roman destruction of the Temple could not overcome the sovereignty of God.  Imperial power might extend even to fish, but God could place the coin to pay the tax inside a fish.  For the sake of avoiding public scandal Jesus pays the tax with money God has provided, but God is still more powerful than the Roman Empire.

We who follow God should acknowledge divine sovereignty.  Our relations to the state might be strained.  I acknowledge the moral legitimacy of political revolution sometimes, especially when the system oppresses those who seek to change it peaceably.  In all circumstances, we ought to, in the words of Jesus,

Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar–and God what belongs to God.

–Matthew 22:21, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

God, who is sovereign over empires and republics, wants us.  That is fair.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 15, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN ELLERTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF CARL HEINRICH VON BOGATSKY, HUNGARIAN-GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LANDELINUS OF VAUX, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AUBERT OF CAMBRAI, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; URSMAR OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND MISSIONARY BISHOP; AND DOMITIAN, HADELIN, AND DODO OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2017/06/15/devotion-for-proper-5-ackerman/

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Faithfulness and Faithlessness   1 comment

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

Above:  The Exorcism

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 31:30-32:27 or Isaiah 5:8-17

Psalm 142

Matthew 17:9-20 or Mark 9:9-29 or Luke 9:18-27 (28-36) 37-45

Philippians 2:14-30

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A typically Jewish way of speaking and writing about God is to recall what God has done.  After all, God is like what God has done.  Furthermore, we are like what we have done, although we are far more than the worst deeds we have committed.  The relevant issue is the pattern of what we have done and of what we are doing.  Repentance is possible, after all, and the past is not necessarily accurate in predicting the future.

Consider with me, O reader, the assigned readings for this Sunday.  The two options for the First Reading proclaim divine judgment upon the faithless, for whom God has done much.  The faithless should know better.  Perhaps they do know better, but they are not acting as if they do.  The lection from Isaiah 5 follows the famous passage likening rebellious Israel to a well-tended vineyard that yields wild grapes.  God will judge that vineyard, we read.  Likewise, we read of faithless Israel in Deuteronomy.  If Richard Elliott Friedman is correct, lurking in the background of the text is a condemnation of polytheism.  God is, after all, insistent upon monotheism in the Hebrew Bible.  If Dr. Friedman is correct, faithlessness to YHWH entails turning to supposedly subordinate deities, members of the divine council–a concept Hebrew prophets opposed vigorously.

In contrast to those lections we read Psalm 142, the lament of a dying man whom other mortals have abandoned.  This man, contemplating the imminent unknown, turns to God alone.  One may assume safely that God is faithful to those who demonstrate fidelity.

The passage from Philippians belongs to a section of that epistle in which one finds advice regarding how to live faithfully in community.  People are to think about each other and model their lives after Jesus, whose humility and selflessness is certainly challenging to emulate.  In this context the customary verses about people with polysyllabic names take on more importance than they might otherwise; these verses model the attitudes and behaviors the preceding verses extol.  People are like what they do.

The three options for the Gospel reading are parallel versions of the same story, set immediately after the Transfiguration of Jesus.  One might fixate on the typically Hellenistic diagnosis of epilepsy as demonic possession, but to do so would be to miss the point.  In the narrative the Apostles have just learned of Christ’s true identity in all of its glory, yet they have not grasped this revelation, and were therefore ineffective.  The lesson for we who read these stories thousands of years later is to ponder whether we grasp who Jesus is and whether we are as effective as we can be in our discipleship.

Our challenge in this regard is to render proper thanksgiving to God in our lives.  We can do this only be grace, of course, but our desire to pursue this course of action is also essential.  Obstacles include laziness, fear, selfishness, cultural conditioning, the pressure to conform, and simple obliviousness.  If we are to grow into our full spiritual stature, however, we must seek to follow and honor God and to trust in divine grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 16, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTIETH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF GUSTAF AULEN, SWEDISH LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT FILIP SIPHONG ONPHITHAKT, ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR IN THAILAND

THE FEAST OF MAUDE DOMINICA PETRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MODERNIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF RALPH ADAMS CRAM AND RICHARD UPJOHN, ARCHITECTS; AND JOHN LAFARGE, SR., PAINTER AND STAINED GLASS MAKER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/devotion-for-proper-4-year-d/

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