Archive for the ‘Matthew 6’ Category

The Oratory and Theology of Elihu, Part III   1 comment

the-wrath-of-elihu-william-blake

Above:  The Wrath of Elihu, by William Blake

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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Job 34:1-20

Psalm 28

Matthew 6:7-15

Hebrews 13:9-14 (15-16) 17-25

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Elihu seems like a rather annoying person.  He is eager to defend God against Job’s complaints and to offer a more vigorous theodicy than that of Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite.  Elihu argues, in part:

So far is God removed from wickedness,

and Shaddai from injustice,

that he requites a man for what he does,

treating each one as his way of life deserves.

God is never wrong, do not doubt that!

Shaddai does not deflect the course of right.

–Job 34:10b-12, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Translation:  Job sinned, and these sufferings of his are divine punishment for those sins.  If he repents, God will forgive Job and end his sufferings.  This conclusion contradicts Job 1 and 2, which offer a truly disturbing answer:  God has permitted an innocent man to suffer as part of a wager.

This seems like an excellent place at which to add the analysis of John Job, author of Job Speaks to Us Today (Atlanta, GA:  John Knox Press, 1977), pages 102-103.  The author asks, “Why are Job’s friends not truly wise?”  He concludes, in part:

The friends, first of all, are shameless utilitarians.  Repentance, in the estimation of Eliphaz, is a kind of insurance policy.  Making petition to God is advocated, not for the intrinsic value of a relationship with him, but simply for the pay-off in material terms–as when he says, “Come to terms with God and you will prosper; that is the way to mend your fortune” (22:21).  The interesting point here is that the friends adopt precisely the position which Satan regards as universally occupied by those who make a show of being god-fearing.  “Does Job fear God for nothing?” he had asked.  Eliphaz makes no secret of the grounds on which he is advising Job to fear God.  It is all too shallow.  Faith is depersonalized:  it becomes self-centered instead of God-centered.  Its character as faith is destroyed.  Fear of God is simply not the right way to describe it.

If one replaces “Eliphaz” with “Elihu” and changes the citation from Job 22 to one from Chapter 34, this analysis remains valid.

The Book of Job defies the desire for easy answers that fundamentalism typifies.  God is just, correct?  Then how does one explain the wager in Job 1 and 2?  And does not Job deserve better than the “I am God and you are not” speeches in Job 38-41?  In Job 42, however, God expresses his displeasure with Eliphaz and company for speaking falsely about him and praises Job for speaking honestly about him (God).  Those two responses seem incompatible, do they not?  Of course, one came from one source and the other came from another.  Elihu, who states correctly that God does not meet human measures (Job 33:12b), also spouts foolishness.  The Book of Job provides no easy answers and offers a false, Hollywood ending, at least in its final, composite form.  The original version ends with Job’s repentance for overreaching a few verses into Chapter 42.

Job needed good friends, not Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu.  He needed people who came to comfort him, to listen to him, and to let him cry on their shoulders.  He needed friends who followed advice from Hebrews 13:16:

Never neglect to show kindness and to share what you have with others; for such are the sacrifices which God approves.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

The standard we apply to others will be the standard God applies to us; we read this in Matthew 7:1-5.  Forgiveness is something we are to extend to others, and divine forgiveness of our sins depends on our forgiveness of the sins of others.  This is a lesson the author of Psalm 28 had not yet learned.  This is a lesson with which I have struggled mightily and with which I continue to struggle.  Success in the struggle does not depend on my own power, fortunately; grace is abundant.  The desire to do something one knows one ought to do is something with which God can work.  It is, metaphorically, a few loaves and fishes, which God can multiply.

In Job 42 God burned with anger toward Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  (The text does not mention Elihu, most likely because the text of the Book of Job did not yet contain the Elihu cycle.)  The alleged friends had not spoken truthfully of God, but Job had.  Job interceded on their behalf, however, and God excused their folly and forgave their sins.  Job, who had complained bitterly to his alleged friends, who had taunted him and sometimes even enjoyed his sufferings, all while imagining that they were pious and that he had done something to deserve his plight, prayed for their forgiveness.

That is a fine lesson to draw from the Book of Job.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 9, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CONSTANCE AND HER COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF ANNE HOULDITCH SHEPHERD, ANGLICAN NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT ISAAC THE GREAT, PATRIARCH OF ARMENIA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CHATTERTON DIX, HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

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

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Waiting for God, Part I   1 comment

Abraham

Above:  Icon of Abraham

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you sent your Holy Spirit to be the life and light of your church.

Open our hearts to the riches of your grace,

that we may be ready to receive you wherever you appear,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

Job 21:1-16 (Thursday)

Ecclesiastes 6:1-6 (Friday)

Genesis 11:27-32 (Saturday)

Psalm 33:12-22 (All Days)

Romans 9:1-9 (Thursday)

Acts 7:1-8 (Friday)

Matthew 6:19-24 (Saturday)

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We are waiting for Yahweh;

he is our help and our shield,

for in him our heart rejoices,

in his holy name we trust.

Yahweh, let your faithful love rest on us,

as our hope has rested in you.

–Psalm 33:20-22, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Sometimes the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer.  This reality has frustrated many for ages and contradicted incarnations of Prosperity Theology (a heresy that does not die) since antiquity.  In the Book of Job the titular character’s alleged friends insisted that he must have done something to deserve his suffering.  The text, with all of its layers of authorship, explains in Chapters 1 and 2 why Job suffered; God allowed it.  Job was a pawn in a heavenly wager.

We who follow God wait for God, but, if we are realistic, we will not expect that doing so will lead to life on Easy Street.  Sometimes, in fact, it will lead to suffering for the sake of righteousness.  On other occasions suffering will just happen, seemingly for no reason.  Suffering is a part of life, I have become convinced.

Yet we need not suffer alone.  In Christ Jesus God suffered in human flesh, after all.  The divine promise is not that a proper relationship with God will be present during suffering.  This has been my experience.  We are members of God’s household via grace, not lineage, and the pilgrimage of faith begins with one step.  In God we find intangible and eternal (in the Johannine sense of that word, that is, “of God,” see 17:3) treasures, the variety that outlasts and is vastly superior to the most appealing temporal prizes.

Of course we should love God for selfless reasons; the rewards will come.  I recall a story about a woman who walked around carrying a torch and a bucket of water.  The torch, she said, was to burn up heaven and the water was to extinguish the flames of hell so that nobody would seek to follow God to enter heaven or to avoid hell.  Yet we humans seem to have mixed motivations much of the time, do we not?  Certain evangelists emphasize the possibility of damnation to frighten people into salvation.  Although I affirm the existence of both heaven and hell, I argue that terror is not a basis for a mature relationship with God, whom many Jews and Christians describe as loving and compassionate.

May we wait for Yahweh, who is our loving and compassionate help and shield, in whom our hearts rejoice.  May we wait for God in times of prosperity and of scarcity, of suffering and of ease, of pain and of pleasure.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 23, 2016 COMMON ERA

WEDNESDAY IN HOLY WEEK

THE FEAST OF GEORGE RUNDLE PRYNNE, ANGLICAN PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY THE ILLUMINATOR, PATRIARCH OF ARMENIA

THE FEAST OF HEINRICH VON LAUFENBERG, GERMAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT TURIBIUS OF MOGROVEJO, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF LIMA

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-14-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Forgiveness   1 comment

Joseph Made Ruler in Egypt Genesis 41:41-43

Above:  Joseph Made Ruler of Egypt

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O Lord God, merciful judge, you are the inexhaustible fountain of forgiveness.

Replace our hearts of stone with hearts that love and adore you,

that we may delight in doing your will,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 47

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 37:12-36 (Thursday)

Genesis 41:53-42:17 (Friday)

Genesis 45:1-20 (Saturday)

Psalm 103:[1-7] 8-13 (All Days)

1 John 3:11-16 (Thursday)

Acts 7:9-16 (Friday)

Matthew 6:7-15 (Saturday)

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He redeems your life from the grave

and crowns your with mercy and loving-kindness;

He satisfies you with good things,

and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.

–Psalm 103:4-5, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The lectionary-based romp through the Joseph Epic from Genesis begins here, in this post.  It is an excellent tale–in act, the first portion of scripture I really read, back in the Summer of 1988.  In today’s installments we focus on the transformation of Joseph from annoying twit and boaster to a powerful figure in the Egyptian government who forgives his would-be murderous relatives and showers kindness on his family.  Unfortunately, in Genesis 47, he reduces the Egyptian population to serfdom in exchange for food (which they had grown anyway), but that is another story, one which many people miss.  (I missed it the first few times I read the epic.)

The New Testament lessons speak of forgiving each other and meeting each other’s needs, even (when necessary) dying for each other.  The reading from Matthew 6 makes plain the link between forgiving others and receiving divine forgiveness.  The measure one applies to others, the Sermon on the Mount tells us, is the one God applies to us.  That makes much sense to me.

To forgive can prove quite difficult.  To want to forgive is easier, I have found, but both are possible only by grace.  Through experiences I have no desire to recall in vivid details I have learned that to stop nursing a grudge is the best one can do at some moments.  The rest will follow in time; forgiveness will come.  One day one will realize that much or most or all of the old anger is gone.  The process starts with a prayer for Got to take all the anger away.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 16. 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DIEFENBAKER AND LESTER PEARSON, PRIME MINISTERS OF CANADA; AND TOMMY DOUGLAS, FEDERAL LEADER OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY

THE FEAST OF JOHN JONES OF TALYSARN, WELSH CALVINISTIC METHODIST MINISTER AND HYMN TUNE COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF BROTHER ROGER OF TAIZE, FOUNDER OF THE TAIZE COMMUNITY

THE FEAST OF THE HOLY WOMEN OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

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Adapted from this post:

link

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Mutuality in God   1 comment

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Above:  A Lenten Logo

This image is available on various websites.  Examples include http://pielover16.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-season-of-lent.htmlhttp://genyhub.com/profiles/blogs/lent-and-the-battlefield, and http://svccgilroy.wordpress.com/tag/lent/.

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The Collects:

Almighty and ever-living God, you hate nothing you have made,

and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent.

Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of all our sins,

we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

or

Gracious God, out of your love and mercy you breathed into dust

the breath of life, creating us to serve you and our neighbors.

Call forth our prayers and acts of kindness, and strengthen us

to face our mortality with confidence in the mercy of your Son,

Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 26

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The Assigned Readings:

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 51:1-17

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

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Some Related Posts:

Joel 2:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/devotion-for-january-21-and-22-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/first-day-of-lent-ash-wednesday/

Isaiah 58:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/fifth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/devotion-for-december-30-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/first-day-of-lent-ash-wednesday/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/third-day-of-lent/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/fourth-day-of-lent/

2 Corinthians 5-6:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/first-day-of-lent-ash-wednesday/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/week-of-proper-6-monday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/proper-7-year-b/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/devotion-for-august-28-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Matthew 6:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/first-day-of-lent-ash-wednesday/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/week-of-proper-6-wednesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/week-of-proper-6-friday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/devotion-for-september-30-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/devotion-for-october-1-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

–Psalm 51:10, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Philip H. Pfatteicher, the noted U.S. Lutheran liturgist, wrote:

The observance of Lent and Easter is characterized by the primacy of community, for baptism incorporates those who are washed in its life-giving water into the community of the faithful people of God.  Anciently, Ash Wednesday was not a time for confession but for excommunication, excluding sinners, for a time, from the community in this world so that they might return from their erring ways and not be excluded forever in the next world.  Later privatized notions led to the emphasis on the confession of one’s sins.

The name Ash Wednesday (dies cinerum) derives from the custom which seems to have originated in Gaul in the sixth century of sprinkling ashes on the heads of penitents.  In the tenth and eleventh centuries the custom was adopted voluntarily by the faithful as a sign of penitence and a reminder of their mortality.

Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship:  Lutheran Liturgy in Its Ecumenical Context (Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Fortress, 1990), pages 223-224

I detect elements of both the original and modified meanings of Ash Wednesday in the assigned readings.  There are both judgment and mercy in God, who expects certain behaviors from us.  Rituals and fasts–good and spiritually meritorious practices when one engages them with a proper attitude–prove ineffective as talismans to protect one from divine punishment for sins.  To read these passages as dismissive of rituals and fasts as “externals,” as does the Pietist tradition, is to miss the point.  ”Externals,” according to Pietism, are of minimal or no importance; the individual experience of God in oneself takes precedence, minimizing even sacraments.  Although the Pietists are not entirely wrong, their underdeveloped sacramental theology is a major weakness and error.

No, the union of ritual and proper attitude in faithful community is of the essence.  Thus one cares actively for and about others.  Therefore the faithful prove themselves to be

authentic servants of God

–2 Corinthians 6:4a, The New Jerusalem Bible,

even in distressing circumstances.  Thus the faithful people of God glorify God in their words and deeds.  And whatever rituals their tradition embraces function for spiritual edification–as those the Law of Moses specifies were meant to do.

The original practice of Lent came from an understanding that what one does affects others.  This sense of mutuality, present in the Old and New Testaments, receives too little attention in the overly individualistic global West.  Rugged individualism, a great lie, is foreign to biblical ethics.  My branch of Christianity teaches the primacy of Scripture.  We are not Sola Scriptura people; no we are the tribe of the three-legged stool–Scripture, tradition, and reason.  My reason requires me to take seriously the communitarian ethic in the Bible and much of Christianity.  Thus I consider how my deeds and words affect my community, my congregation, and the world.

I invite you, O reader, to apply the same ethic to your life every day and to seek to be especially mindful of it during Lent.  These forty days are a wonderful season during which to nurture a good spiritual habit.  But, regardless of the meritorious spiritual habit you choose to focus on, may you succeed for the glory of God and the benefit of your fellow human beings.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 6, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM TEMPLE, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF TE WHITI O RONGOMAI, MAORI PROPHET

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEOPHANE VENARD, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MISSIONARY, AND MARTYR IN VIETNAM

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/devotion-for-ash-wednesday-years-a-b-and-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Deuteronomy and Matthew, Part XVIII: Forgiveness, Divine and Human   1 comment

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Above:  Parable of the Wicked Servant, by Domenico Fetti

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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:

Deuteronomy 29:1-29

Psalm 110 (Morning)

Psalms 66 and 23 (Evening)

Matthew 18:21-35

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Some Related Posts:

Deuteronomy 29:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/proper-10-year-c/

Matthew 18:

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

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/week-of-proper-14-thursday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/20/proper-19-year-a/

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God demanded complete fidelity in Deuteronomy 29.  Hence there was no forgiveness for the sin of idolatry, turning away from the covenant.  If I understand the Hebrew Scriptures correctly, idolatry led to destruction, which mercy usually followed.  The consequences of actions played out; that constituted judgment.  Then God granted the surviving remnant another chance.  And, if I understand the New Testament correctly, the only unpardonable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  In textual context the unpardonable sin is the inability to distinguish good from evil.  Perhaps blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and the abandonment of the covenant are the same thing.

I, as a student of the Scriptures, detect recurring themes.  One of them is that God’s forgiveness of our sins depends partially on our forgiveness of those who have wronged us.  As God forgives us, we ought to forgive others.

Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  For as you judge others, so will you be judged, and whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt to you.

–Matthew 7:1-2, The Revised English Bible

In the parable from Matthew 18 the forgiven servant had no way of repaying the enormous debt.  Yet he refused to forgive smaller debts owed to him.  So his former creditor, the king, did to him (the servant) what the servant had done to others.

Forgive us the wrong we have done,

as we have forgiven those who have wronged us.

–Matthew 6:12, The Revised English Bible

then

For, if you forgive others the wrongs they have done, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.

–Matthew 6:14-15, The Revised English Bible

The paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer from A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989) contains the following line:

In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.—page 181

I like the verb “absorb” in context.  We ought not to carry those hurts around like luggage.  Yes, they will inform us.  We might remember them for a long time, but they need not transform into grudges.

I have struggled with forgiving others.  I still do.  Yes, I have the free will (sometimes) to forgive those who have sinned against me, but letting go is oddly more difficult than hanging on to those grievances.  Yet letting go leads to a lighter spiritual load.

Fortunately, grace is present and abundant.  I feel like St. Paul the Apostle:

I discover this principle, then:  that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach.  In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive in my outward actions a different law, fighting against the law that my mind approves, and making me a prisoner under the law of sin which controls my conduct.  Wretched creature that I am, who is there to rescue me from this state of death?  Who but God?  Thanks be to him through Jesus Christ our Lord!  To sum up then:  left to myself I serve God’s law with my mind, but with my unspiritual nature I serve the law of sin.

–Romans 7:21-25, The Revised English Bible

At least one who has that struggle is not committing the unpardonable sin.  Having a spiritual struggle is not necessarily negative; it might even be mostly positive, for it can lead to a stronger state.

I recall confessing a particular sin–inability to forgive despite my knowledge of the imperative of doing so—to my priest, Beth Long, once.  People—some perfidious—have wronged me.  Beth counseled me to forgive myself.  The trauma would wash out of my spiritual system in time and I would, by grace, find the ability to forgive.  Those men’s deeds were perfidious; forgiving them did not change what they did.  But it did change me.

We human beings are weak, but at least we do not need to rely on our strength to do what God has called us to do and to become what God has called us to become.  Thanks be to God!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 8, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BENEDICT II, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF DAME JULIAN OF NORWICH, SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAGDALENA OF CANOSSA, FOUNDER OF THE DAUGHTERS OF CHARITY AND THE SONS OF CHARITY

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER OF TARENTAISE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/devotion-for-october-27-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Deuteronomy and Matthew, Part IV: God, Mammon, and Killing   1 comment

new100front

Above: The Front of the U.S. $100 Bill

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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:

Deuteronomy 2:16-37

Psalm 13 (Morning)

Psalms 36 and 5 (Evening)

Matthew 6:16-34

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Some Related Posts:

Matthew 6:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/seventh-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/eighth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/week-of-proper-6-friday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/05/week-of-proper-6-saturday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/week-of-proper-6-friday-year-2/

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How priceless is your love, O God!

Your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.

–Psalm 36:7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Deuteronomy 2:16-37 seemed dull until I arrived at the end of that lection and found a reference to the supposedly divine-sanctioned killing of all men, women, and children and the complete destruction of property in war.  The Richard Elliott Friedman Commentary of the Torah (2001) informed me that

In contexts that do not have to do with war, the Hebrew word herem refers to something that is devoted to God (Lev. 27:21, 28-29; Num. 18:14).  In contexts of war, as in this verse, herem refers to the rule, in divinely commanded wars only, against taking spoils or slaves, but rather destroying all of these and thus dedicating them to the deity.  Then point:  the war is not for profit.

–page 569

That did not cause me to feel better or to think kindly about the text.

Yet the not-for-profit theme fits well with Matthew 6:16-34.  Fasting should not be for the purpose of amassing social capital.  One should value God more than wealth, can be a tool for good, bad, and neutral purposes.  As 6:21 (The Revised English Bible) tells us,

For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.

William Barclay wrote succinctly and correctly,

…wealth is always a subordinate good.

The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1 (Chapters 1-10), Revised Edition (Philadelphia, PA:  Westminster Press, 1975, page 252)

But it can become an idol.  Anything can become an idol if one treats it accordingly.

One of the great principles of the Law of Moses is that everything belongs to God; we are merely stewards.  Yes, there is value in not becoming a moral hazard or an unnecessary burden upon others if possible.  That is one reason for purchasing various forms of insurance policies.  But a proper spiritual perspective on wealth and all that it can buy is that they belong to God.  Lasting profit is spiritual, for we cannot take our money and our possessions to the afterlife.  How effectively have we cared for others collectively and individually?  (To set one against the other is to create a false dichotomy.)

To bring this post back full circle, I propose that killing people then claiming to have dedicated to God is unacceptable at all times and places, Deuteronomy 2 not withstanding.  The Golden Rule overrides that understanding of herem.  And conducting a massacre is neither for one’s spiritual profit nor the benefit of the massacred.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 20, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATOR OF AUXERRE AND GERMANUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT MAMERTINUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT MARCIAN OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF JOHANNES BUGENHAGEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF EMBRUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF OLAVUS AND LAURENTIUS PETRI, RENEWERS OF THE CHURCH

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/devotion-for-october-1-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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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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