Archive for the ‘Matthew 23’ Category

Jeremiah and Matthew, Part V: Hope Amid Judgment   1 comment

brooklyn_museum_-_woe_unto_you_scribes_and_pharisees_malheur_c3a0_vous_scribes_et_pharisiens_-_james_tissot

Above:  Woe Unto You, Scribes and Pharisees, by James Tissot

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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:

Jeremiah 8:18-9:12

Psalm 89:1-18 (Morning)

Psalms 1 and 33 (Evening)

Matthew 23:13-39

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Some Related Posts:

Jeremiah 8-9:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/proper-20-year-c/

Matthew 23:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/second-day-of-christmas-the-feast-of-st-stephen-deacon-and-martyr-december-26/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/week-of-proper-16-monday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/week-of-proper-16-tuesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/06/week-of-proper-16-wednesday-year-1/

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Why is the land in ruins,

Laid waste like a wilderness,

with none passing through?

The LORD replied, Because they forsook the teaching I had set before them.  They did not obey Me and they did not follow it, but followed their own heart and followed the Baalim, as their fathers had taught them.  Assuredly thus says says the LORD of Hosts, he God of Israel:  I am going to feed that people wormwood and make them drink a bitter draft.  I will scatter them among nations which their fathers never knew; and I will dispatch the sword after them until I have consumed them.

–Jeremiah 9:11b-15, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

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The assigned Psalms speak of God as the defender of the righteous.  They also, like the lections from Jeremiah and Matthew, mention God’s destructive side.  One ethic–obey God’s rules and stay on the good side of God or disobey them and suffer the consequences–unites these readings.  There is suffering for righteous deeds sometimes, of course, as the examples of Jesus and uncounted martyrs attest, but it is better to suffer for being on God’s side.

We need to avoid false generalizations, such as those found in Prosperity Theology.  There is no metaphysical righteousness machine whereby one inserts the coins of holiness and receives an automatic reward, a sort of quid pro quo.  We cannot buy grace.  If we could do so, it would not be grace.  Also, bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.  The strong element of human free will, applied for nefarious ends, has warped societies, cultures, and subcultures.

But nothing so warped lasts forever.  The readings from Jeremiah and Matthew come from cultures which ceased to exist a long time ago.  And people have changed, altering their societies, cultures, and subcultures with them.  The modern Civil Rights Movement in the United States of America comes to mind immediately.  Yes, many attitudes are slow to change in some circumstances, but hope for repentance remains.  From that fact I derive much hope.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MORAND OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LIPHARDUS OF ORLEANS AND URBICIUS OF MEUNG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF UGANDA

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/devotion-for-november-6-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Jeremiah and Matthew, Part IV: False Talismans   1 comment

first-temple

Above:  The First Temple

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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:

Jeremiah 7:1-29

Psalm 42 (Morning)

Psalms 102 and 133 (Evening)

Matthew 23:1-12

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Some Related Posts:

Jeremiah 7:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/twentieth-day-of-lent/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/09/24/week-of-proper-11-saturday-year-2/

Matthew 23:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/twelfth-day-of-lent/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/week-of-proper-15-saturday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/proper-26-year-a/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/week-of-proper-15-saturday-year-2/

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Don’t put your trust in illusions and say, “The Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the Lord are those [buildings].”  No, if you mind your ways and your actions; if you execute justice between one man and another; if you do not oppress the stranger, the orphan, and the widow; if you do not shed the blood of the innocent in this place; if you do not follow other gods, to your own hurt–then only will you dwell in this place….

–Jeremiah 7:4-7a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

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I have eaten ashes for bread

and mingled my drink with weeping,

Because of your indignation and wrath,

for you have taken me up and cast me down.

My days fade away like a shadow,

and I am withered like grass.

–Psalm 102:10-12, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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Jeremiah’s Temple sermon condemned idolatry, economic injustice, judicial corruption, and insensitivity toward the needs of others.  It cited these as reasons for God’s wrath against the kingdom.  It picked up a theme from Deuteronomy 28 and 30, especially 30:15-20.  But Jeremiah’s words fell on deaf ears.

One of Jeremiah’s main criticisms was that people treated the Temple and its rituals as talismans–that people thought they could therefore do as they wanted and that the Temple and its rituals would protect them.  Jesus criticized Temple authorities who acted hypocritically and imposed needless burdens on sincere people while seeking opportunities for prestige, not service.  Their alleged talismans did not protect them from the wrath of the Roman Empire in 70 CE.

Yes, there is divine mercy.  Yes, there is divine judgment.  And often that judgment is simply the consequences of our misdeeds backfiring on us.  We err when we forget that each of us is here on the planet to, among other things, care actively and deeply for each other–to serve each other in the name of God and to respect the Image of God in each other.  This ethic is inconsistent with violence and exploitation, whether one commits them or merely consents to them passively.  This ethic is inconsistent with such deeds and their root attitudes regardless of whether they flow from the political left wing or right wing.

God is watching us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 24, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF IDA SCUDDER, REFORMED CHURCH IN AMERICA MEDICAL MISSIONARY IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF EDWARD KENNEDY “DUKE” ELLINGTON, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JACKSON KEMPER, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WISCONSIN

THE FEAST OF MOTHER EDITH, FOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE SACRED NAME

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/devotion-for-november-5-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Authentic Spirituality   1 comment

Above:  Bottle Feeding an Abandoned Kitten

http://lovemeow.com/2010/03/men-rescued-abandoned-new-born-kittens/

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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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1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (The Jerusalem Bible):

You know yourselves, my brothers, that our visit to you has not proved ineffectual.

We had, as you know, been given rough treatment and been grossly insulted at Philippi, and it was our God who gave us the courage to proclaim his Good News to you in the face of great opposition.  We have not taken to preaching because we are deluded, or immoral, or trying to deceive anyone; it was God who decided that we were fit to be entrusted with the Good News, and when we are speaking, we are not trying to please men but God,who can read our inmost thoughts. You know very well, and we can swear it before God, that never at any time have our speeches been simply flattery, or a cover for trying to get money; nor have we ever looked for any special honour from men, either from you or anybody else, when we could have imposed ourselves on you with the full weight, as apostles of Christ.

Instead, we were unassuming.  Like a mother feeding and looking after her own children, we felt so devoted and protective towards you, and had come to love you so much, that we were eager to hand over to you not only the Good News but our whole lives as well.

Psalm 139:1-9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

LORD, you have searched me out and known me;

you know my sitting down and my rising up;

you discern my thoughts from afar.

You trace my journeys and my resting-places

and are acquainted with all my ways.

3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,

but you, O LORD, know it altogether.

4 You press upon me behind and before

and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is so high that I cannot attain to it.

Where can I go then from your Spirit?

where can I flee from your presence?

If I climb up to heaven, you are there;

if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

8 If I take the wings of the morning

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

9 Even there your hand will lead me

and your right hand hold me fast.

Matthew 23:23-26 (The Jerusalem Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

Alas for you , scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who pay tithe of mint and dill and cummin and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law–justice, mercy, good faith!  These you should have practised, without neglecting the others.  You blind guides!  Straining out gnats and swallowing camels!

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who clean the outside of cup and dish and leave the inside full of extortion and intemperance. Blind Pharisee!  Clean the inside of cup and dish first so that the outside may become clean as well.

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The Collect:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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What is the test of authentic spirituality?  Or, to phrase the question differently, what does God require of us?  We ought, when pondering this matter, realize that divinity exists in a realm beyond the limits of our ability to understand; God refuses to fit into our intellectual boxes.  So, as valuable as theology can be (which is to say, very), we need to avoid turning theological concepts into idols.

Karen Armstrong proposes the answer that makes the most sense to me.  Compassion, she says, is the test of authentic spirituality.  Compassion is at the heart of the reading from 1 Thessalonians.  Paul cared deeply for the people of Thessalonica, so he shared his life with them.  Compassion impelled Jesus, too.  This helps explain why he was so critical of those who, in the name of God, obsessed over small matters while neglecting what mattered most–that is, to love God with everything and each other as one self.

Compassion transcends species.  The most appropriate image I could find for this post is the one I have attached to it.  I have provided a link to its source, and the story is worth reading.  David Dixon and Paul Ortega, of Palm Springs, California, rescued four kittens from a trash bag in 2010.  Two survived.  Dixon and Ortega named the survivors Scooter and Dixie.  The men bottle fed the kittens until this was no longer necessary.  The kittens became well and the humans decided to keep them.

Admittedly I have a soft spot for cats, especially vulnerable kittens.  Felines are creatures of God and agents of grace, and human compassion ought to extend to all who are vulnerable, regardless of species.  Jesus would approve of what Dixon and Ortega have done for these cats.

In contrast I read about honor killings, sometimes by immigrants to the United States.  Those who perpetrate these crimes use religion to justify their actions.  But the God I worship does not approve of honor killings.  The God I worship teaches compassion, condemns honor killings, says to love my neighbor as I love myself, and adores kittens.  (Being part of creation, they fall under the description of “good.”) This God does not always agree me with me.  Indeed, I know that I am wrong about certain points, but remain unsure which ones those are.  But compassion matters more than fine points of theology.

May the hallmark of your faith life, O reader, be compassion.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 1, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAXIMILIAN OF TREVESTE, ROMAN CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT DAVID OF WALES, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF MENEVIA

THE FEAST OF GIROLAMO FRESCOBALDI, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEOPHANES THE CHRONICLER, DEFENDER OF ICONS

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/week-of-proper-16-tuesday-year-1/

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Influences, Positive and Negative   1 comment

Above:  Ancient Ruins and Modern Buildings in Saloniki, Greece

(Courtesy of http://www.saloniki.org/)

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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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With this post I change translations again.  This is a helpful practice, for it refreshes one’s view of the Scriptures.  My studies of French have revealed to me the accuracy of the statement that any text loses something in translation from Language A into Language B.  So, as I read and study the Bible in English, I seek out various translations.  What one version misses, hopefully another retains.  And this practice helps me to read and hear the texts as if for the first time, for the familiar cadences of the Authorized (King James) Version, with which I grew up, can become obstacles to paying attention to the content.  This principle holds true, regardless of which translation to which one’s brain is attuned.

So, for the next unknown number of weeks, may we read and hear the words of Scripture according to the great Jerusalem Bible, from 1966.

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1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (The Jerusalem Bible):

From Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the Church in Thessalonika which is in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; wishing you grace and peace.

We always mention you in our prayers and thank God for you all, and constantly remember before God our Father how you have shown your faith in action, worked for love and persevered through hope, in our Lord Jesus Christ.

We know, brothers, that God loves you and that you have been chosen, because when we brought the Good News to you, it became to you not only as words, but as power and as the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction.  And you observed the sort of life we lived when we were with you, which was for your instruction, and you were led to become imitators of us, and of the Lord; and it was with the joy of the Holy Spirit that you took to the gospel, in spite of the great oppression all round you.  This has made you the great example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia since it was from you that the word of the Lord started to spread–and not only throughout Macedonia and Achaia, for the news of your faith in God has spread everywhere.  We do not need to tell other people about it; other people tell us how we started to work among you, how you broke with idolatry when you converted to God and became servants of the real, living God; and how you are now waiting for Jesus, his Son, whom he raised from the dead, to come down from heaven to save us from the retribution which is coming.

Psalm 149:1-5 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Sing to the LORD a new song;

sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.

Let Israel rejoice in his Maker;

let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.

Let them praise his Name in the dance;

let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.

For the LORD takes pleasure in his people

and adorns the poor with victory.

5 Let the faithful rejoice in triumph;

let them be joyful on their beds.

Matthew 23:13-22 (The Jerusalem Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who shut up the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces, neither going in yourselves nor allowing others to go in who want to.

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who travel over sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when you have him you make him twice as fit for hell as you are.

Alas for you, blind guides!  You who say, ‘If a man swears by the Temple, it has no force; but if a man swears by the gold of the Temple, he is bound.’  Fools and blind!  For which is of greater worth, the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred?  Or else, ‘If a man swears by the altar it has no force; but if a man swears by the offering that is on the altar, he is bound.’  You blind men!  For which is of greater worth, the offering or the altar that makes the offering sacred?  Therefore, when a man swears by the Temple he is swearing by that and the One who dwells in it.  And when a man swears by heaven he is swearing by the throne of God and by the One who is seated there.

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The Collect:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Acts 17:1-10 tells of the Apostle Paul’s short (three weeks or so) stay in Thessalonica (modern-day Salonika), a prosperous crossroads and center of commerce in Greece.  He met with much hostility from certain Jews, but apparently made a strong and favorable impression on other people, as 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 testifies.  This epistle dates to approximately 50 C.E., a fact which places it roughly equidistant in chronology between the crucifixion (one of Paul’s great themes) and the writing of the Gospel of Mark, the earliest of the canonical Gospels.  So, when we read 1 Thessalonians, we read one of the oldest documents of the Christian faith.

Paul needed to plant Christianity in Thessalonica because of the three most important factors in real estate:  location, location, and location.  The road that connected Rome to the East was the main thoroughfare in Thessalonica.  So planting a church there helped to spread the Good News of Jesus to many other places.

Paul was in very good spirits in Chapter 1.  His mood darkened as the epistle continued, however.  But let us not get ahead of ourselves.  The Canadian Anglican lectionary I am following covers almost every word of 1 Thessalonians, so I will get to the rest very shortly.  For now let us focus on the text for today;  Paul opens with praise for the renowned faithfulness of the Thessalonian congregation.  He had drawn them to Christ by a lived example, and they were doing likewise for others.  Paul had been a positive influence.

Jesus, in contrast, was angry in Matthew 23.  As much as I have strong disagreements with the Jesus Seminar, I must admit that their Annotated Scholars Version of the Gospels is the most direct rendering of that text for today.

Alas to you

in The Jerusalem Bible becomes

Damn you!

(So much for the Sweet Jesus of many juvenile Sunday School classes!)  But it is clear that Jesus was not being sweet in Matthew 23.  Rather, he was being justifiably critical of professional religious people who imposed needless religious burdens on well-meaning individuals.  These religious elites were, as we say in North America, too clever by half.  They favored ridiculously complicated rules about when swearing an oath was valid.  Jesus cut through these traditions like a knife through soft butter; all religious oaths involved God.

So stop playing games

is my paraphrase of Jesus here.

This seems like a good time to quote Matthew 5:33-37 (The Jerusalem Bible).  This is part of the Sermon on the Mount:

Again, you have learnt how it was said to our ancestors:  You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord.  But I say this to you:  do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne; or by the earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great king.  Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black.  All you need say is ‘Yes’ if you mean yes, ‘No’ if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

My cumulative lesson is this:  Lived faithfulness will result from proper attitudes.  How can it not?  Anyhow, we are all examples.  But what kind are you?  What kind of example am I?  We are examples of that which animates us.  May this animating force be God Incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth.  And may his concern for others (in all aspects) be ours as well.  May we follow him.  And as we do this, may we remember these words, from Matthew 6:1:

Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice; by doing this you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven.

Jesus was not always sweet, but he was inspiring and wise.  He still is.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 28, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ANNA JULIA HAYWOOD COOPER, EDUCATOR

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/week-of-proper-16-monday-year-1/

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Righteousness, Genuine and Fake   1 comment

Above:  Boaz and Ruth, by Gustave Dore

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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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Ruth 2:1-11; 4:13-17 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a man of substance, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.

Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi,

I would like to go to the fields and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone who may show me kindness.

She replied,

Yes, daughter, go;

and off she went.  She came and gleaned in a field, behind the reapers; and, as luck would have it, it was the piece of land belonging to Boaz, who was of Elimelech’s family.

Presently Boaz arrived from Bethlehem.  He greeted the reapers,

The LORD be with you!

And they responded,

The LORD bless you!

Boaz said to the servant who was in charge of the reapers,

Whose girl is that?

The servant in charge of the reapers replied,

She is a Moabite girl who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab.  She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.’   She has been on her feet ever since she came this morning.  She has rested but little in the hut.

Boaz said to Ruth,

Listen to me, daughter.  Don’t go to glean in another field.  Don’t go elsewhere, but stay here close to my girls.  Keep your eyes on the field they are reaping, and follow them.  I have ordered the men not to molest you.  And when you are thirsty, go to the jars and drink some of [the water] that the men have drawn.

She prostrated herself with her face to the ground, and said to him,

Why are you so kind as to single me out, when I am a foreigner?

Boaz said in reply,

I have been told of all you that you did for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband, how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth and came to a people you had not known before….

So Boaz married Ruth; she became his wife, and he cohabited with her.  The LORD let her conceive, and she bore a son.  And the woman said to Naomi,

Blessed be the LORD, who has not withheld a redeemer from you today!  May his name be perpetuated in Israel!  He will renew your life and sustain your old age; for he is born of your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons.

Naomi took the child and held it to her bosom.  She became its foster mother, and the women gave him a name, saying,

A son is born to Naomi!

They named him Obed; he was the father of Jesse, father of David.

Psalm 128 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Happy are they who all fear the LORD,

and who follow in his ways!

2 You shall eat the fruit of your labor;

happiness and prosperity shall be yours.

3 Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house,

your children like olive shoots round about your table.

4 The man who fears the LORD

shall thus be blessed.

The LORD bless you from Zion,

and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.

6 May you live to see your children’s children;

may peace be upon Israel.

Matthew 23:1-12 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then Jesus addressed the crowds and his disciples.

The scribes and the Pharisees speak with the authority of Moses,

he told them,

so you must do what they tell you and follow their instructions.  But you must not imitate their lives!  For they preach but do not practise.  They pile up back-breaking burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders–yet they themselves will not raise a finger to move them. Their whole lives and planned with an eye to effect.  They increase the size of their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their robes; they love seats of honour at dinner parties and front places in the synagogues.  They love to be greeted with respect in public places and to have men call them ‘rabbi!”  Don’t you ever be called ‘rabbi”–you have only one teacher, and all of you are brothers.  And don’t call any human being ‘father’–for you have one Father and he is in Heaven.  And you must not let people call you ‘leaders’–you have only leader, Christ!  The only ‘superior’ among you is the one who serves the others.  For every man who promotes himself will be humbled, and every man who learns to be humble will find promotion.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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“…and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king….”

–Matthew 1:5-6a (Revised Standard Version)

I type readings into these posts as part of a spiritual exercise.  Slowing down long enough to enter each word via my fingertips helps me pay close attention to the texts.   Sometimes whimsical thoughts occur to me as I interact with the stories.  So it was, that as I typed part of Ruth 2, I read that Boaz greeted his reapers with,

The LORD be with you!

and that they responded,

The LORD bless you!

If they had answered,

And also with you,

I mused, they might have been Episcopalians.

Seriously, though, good-natured denominational humor aside, I detected a common thread:  How we treat each other is vital in our faith life.  Let us begin with the Book of Ruth.

Boaz was a pious, kind, and wealthy man.  He did not have to permit Ruth to glean in his field, but he chose to do so.  And he, older than Ruth, fell in love with her and married her.  Furthermore, they had a son, Obed (Hebrew for servant or worshiper), who became the grandfather of King David.  I wonder if Boaz’s sensitivity to Ruth’s situation was related to his ancestry, as his mother was the prostitute Rahab, who rescued Hebrew spies in Joshua 2.  He does not seem to have been the kind of man who measured people according their pedigrees.

The genealogy of Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 1:1-17, is quite interesting.  Most of the names are male, so the occasional mention of a woman by name requires careful attention.  There is Mary, of course, but one also reads the names Rahab (a prostitute) and Ruth (a foreigner).  Bathsheba is also there, but not by name; she is “the wife of Uriah.”  So this family tree mentions four women, three of whom had dubious sexual reputations during their lifetimes.  The fourth was merely foreign-born, a fact about which some people were sensitive.  Why else would local women associate young Obed with Naomi, not Ruth?

Anyhow, the love match of Ruth and Boaz enriched their lives and that of Naomi.  It also constituted another link in the chain leading to Jesus.  That chain included some seemingly unlikely and not respectable people.

Jesus condemns some respectable people in Matthew 23.  There was nothing wrong with tassels or phylacteries; both are Biblical.  (See Exodus 13:1-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41; and Deuteronomy 22:12.)  But ostentatious displays of religion and quests for social honor attracted our Lord and Savior’s condemnation.  No, he said, one ought to seek opportunities to serve, not to be served.

Obed was the son of Boaz and Ruth.  His name meant “servant” or “worshiper.”  The greatest, Jesus said, was the servant of all.  The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.  Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and the humble will be exalted.  Or, as J. B. Phillips translated the text, “For every man who promotes himself will be humbled, and every man who learns to be humble will find promotion.”  This is the order in the Kingdom of God.  Thanks be to God!  May we learn this lesson, inwardly digest it, and act accordingly.  In so doing may we transform ourselves, each other, our communities, our societies, our politics, and our world.

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A PRAYER OF SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is despair hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

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KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 26, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXANDER OF ALEXANDRIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EMILY MALBONE MORGAN, FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF THE COMPANIONS OF THE HOLY CROSS

THE FEAST OF FRED ROGERS, EDUCATOR AND U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER

THE FEAST OF SAINT PORPHYRY OF GAZA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/week-of-proper-15-saturday-year-1/

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A Living Power Among You Who Believe It   1 comment

Above: Paul Writing His Epistles (1500s)

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1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Let me remind you, brothers, how hard we used to work, slaving night and day so as not to be a burden on any one of you while we were proclaiming God’s Good News to you.  You are witnesses, and so is God, that our treatment of you, since you became believers, has been impeccably right and fair.  You can remember how we treated every one of you as a father treats his children, teaching you what was right, encouraging you and appealing to you to live a life worthy of God, who is calling you to share the glory of his kingdom.

Another reason why we constantly thank God for you is that as soon as you heard the message that we brought you as God’s message, you accepted it for what it really is, God’s message and not some human thinking; and it is still a living power among you who believe it.

Psalm 126 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,

then were we like those who dream.

2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter,

and our tongue with shouts of joy.

3 Then they said among the nations,

“The LORD has done great things for them.”

The LORD has done great things for us,

and we are glad indeed.

5 Restore our fortunes, O LORD,

like the watercourses of the Negev.

6 Those who sowed with tears

will reap with songs of joy.

7 Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,

will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

Matthew 23:27-32 (The Jerusalem Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who are like whitewashed tombs that look handsome on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of corruption.  In the same way you appear to people from the outside like honest men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who build the sepulchres of the prophets and decorate the tombs of holy men, saying, ‘We would never have joined in shedding the blood of the prophets, had we lived in our fathers’ day.’  So!  Your own evidence tells against you!  You are the sons of those who murdered the prophets!  Very well then, finish off the work that your fathers began.

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The Collect:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Contact with a corpse made one ritually unclean (Numbers 19:16).  So imagine that it is the month of Adar, and that you, O reader, are a pilgrim in Jesus’ day traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover.  You might become ritually unclean, and therefore ineligible to celebrate Passover, if you come into contact with a roadside tomb.  Fortunately for you, people have whitewashed the tombs in advance, so they will stand out, and pilgrims will not become ritually unclean by accident.

This is the reference to whitewashed tombs in Matthew 23.  But Jesus says that hypocritical professional religious people who lay needless burdens on the faithful are the whitewashed tombs; the scribes and Pharisees are themselves unclean.  How is that for a strong condemnation, one that hits home?  And these scribes and Pharisees are the spiritual heirs of those who have persecuted and killed prophets of God.  At this point in Matthew Jesus is nearing his own death, in which professional religious people were complicit.  (But let us not let the Romans off the hook, for the Procurator authorized the execution and soldiers carried it out.)

This day’s reading from 1 Thessalonians begins with Paul defending himself against unfounded criticisms.  Why else would he have pointed to his work ethic and his treatment of others?  Here we have an example of an old truth:  Whatever you do, somebody is likely to criticize you.  But the part of the reading that attracts my attention is verse 13:  God’s message is a living power among those who believe it.  Belief is trust; it indicates an influence in how one lives.  So belief becomes evident in actions.

The fault of the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus criticized was that their belief was self-serving.  It made them look good to themselves and many others, but it was a disguise for spiritual rot.  Jesus calls us not to be tombs or spiritual memorials, but living testimonies to him.  Once in a while we might have to say something, but our actions ought to do most of the talking.

The aspect of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity that bothers me most is its preoccupation with individual salvation at the expense of the well-being of one’s community and society.  I have had conversations with people possessed of this spiritual understanding.  Many of them do not care if the world burns; they have Jesus.  (Someone expressed this sentiment to me a few years ago, without embarrassment.)  According to this point of view, social justice can take a back seat as long as a man’s hair is not too long, a woman’s skirt is not too short, and someone is learning that he or she will go to Hell unless he or she comes to Jesus.  Without dismissing the necessity of Jesus (I am a Christian.), I prefer a holistic gospel.  It is pointless to cure one person of spiritual sickness and not care about societal ills.  Indeed, we humans are not separate from our societies.  And love of God is more effective than fear of damnation in drawing one into a spiritually healthy relationship with God.

Disclaimer, for the sake of accuracy:  Many evangelical Christians are quite concerned about social justice and responsible ecology.  I applaud them.  Unfortunately, some of their co-religionists criticize them for the breadth of their concerns.

May we–you and I–exhibit the living power of God to all, so that all who seek it and cross paths with us will see it working within us.  And, to borrow a line from St. Francis of Assisi, may we preach the gospel at all times, using words when necessary.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 6, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDWARD KING, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF LINCOLN

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on March 6, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/06/week-of-proper-16-wednesday-year-1/

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Traditions   1 comment

Above:  Dill

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2 Thessalonians 2:1-17 (The Jerusalem Bible):

To turn now, brothers, to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and how we shall all be gathered round him:  please do not get excited too soon or alarmed by any prediction or rumour or any letter claiming to come from us, implying that the Day of the Lord has already arrived.  Never let anyone deceive you in this way.

It cannot happen until the Great Revolt has taken place and the Rebel, the Lost One, has appeared.  This is the Enemy, the one who claims to be so much greater than all that men call ‘god’, so much greater than anything that is worshipped, that he enthrones himself inGod’s sanctuary and claims that he is God.  Surely you remember me telling you this when I was with you?  And you know, too, what is still holding back from appearing before his appointed time.  Rebellion is at work already, but in secret, and the one who is holding it back has first to be removed before the Rebel appears openly.  The Lord will kill him with the breath of his mouth and will annihilate him with his glorious appearance at his coming.

But when the Rebel comes, Satan will set to work:  there will be all kinds of miracles and a deceptive show of signs and portents, and everything evil that can deceive those who are bound for destruction because they would not grasp the love of the truth which could have saved them.  The reason why God is sending a power to delude them and make them believe what is untrue is to condemn all who refused to believe in the truth and choose wickedness instead.

But we feel we must be continually thanking God for you, brothers whom the Lord loves, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved by the sanctifying Spirit and by faith in the truth.  Through the Good News that we brought he called you to this so that you should share the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Stand firm, then, brothers, and keep the traditions that we taught you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.  May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God the Father who has given us his love and, through his grace, such inexhaustible comfort and such sure hope, comfort you and strengthen you in everything good that you do or say.

Psalm 96:7-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

7 Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples;

ascribe to the LORD honor and power.

Ascribe to the LORD the honor due his Name;

bring offerings and come into his courts.

Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness;

let the whole earth tremble before him.

10 Tell it out among the nations:  ”The LORD is King!

he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;

he will judge the peoples with equity.”

11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;

let the sea thunder and all that is in it;

let the field be joyful and all that is therein.

12 Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy

before the LORD when he comes,

when he comes to judge the earth.

13 He will judge the world with righteousness

and the peoples with his truth.

Matthew 23:23-26 (The Jerusalem Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

Alas for you , scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who pay tithe of mint and dill and cummin and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law–justice, mercy, good faith!  These you should have practised, without neglecting the others.  You blind guides!  Straining out gnats and swallowing camels!

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You who clean the outside of cup and dish and leave the inside full of extortion and intemperance. Blind Pharisee!  Clean the inside of cup and dish first so that the outside may become clean as well.

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The Collect:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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There are traditions then there are traditions.

Deuteronomy 14:22 and Leviticus 27:30 required the tithing of major edible agricultural products for the support of the Levites, dedicated to religious duties.  Yet Pharisees, just one sect in the diverse landscape of First Century C.E. Palestinian Judaism, applied this rule to garden herbs, such as mind, dill, and cummin.  They were overly meticulous in the letter of the law and insisted on a form of piety most people could not afford to maintain.  Jesus valued “justice, mercy, and good faith” more highly than legalistic minutae.

We–especially those of us with personalities which make us prone to fixate on details–sometimes stare at proverbial trees so much that we forget to look up and think about the forest.  The Levites had to eat, and God had set them apart for full-time religious duties.  So Jesus did not object to the tithe on major crops for their benefit.  Yet the scale of a field is much greater than that of a garden in a small yard.  Herbs were not main crops, so the tithe law did not apply to them.  These Pharisees were fixating on a detail which did not exist as if it did, and simultaneously they failed to give sufficient attention to “justice, mercy, and good faith.”  These were traditions worth keeping.

We read in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 to stand firm in certain traditions.  This exhortation follows a reminder not to commit apostasy–in this case, to follow evil which God will defeat.  Often those who commit deeds think that they are righteous; their actions are malicious and those who commit them are terribly deluded.  Frequently a form of religion provides justification for such evil.  Most of the major religions in the world include the principle we Christians call the Golden Rule:  Do to others as you want them to do to you.  Yet the history of these religions is replete with allegedly sacred violence and holy wars.

The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus occupy the heart of Pauline Christology.  With the resurrection we see God demonstrating the extent of divine power to overcome the works of evil.  People could kill Jesus unjustly, but God could resurrect him.  This ought to indicate the end of “sacred violence” and of scapegoating, but we humans (some of us, anyway) continues these erroneous traditions.  Instead, may we abandon such traditions and practice the traditions of loving one another, comforting each other, giving each other reasons for legitimate hope, and practicing “justice, mercy, and good faith” daily.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 10, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF YORK, ARCHBISHOP

THE FEAST OF VIDA DUTTON SCUDDER

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on October 10, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/week-of-proper-16-tuesday-year-2/

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