Archive for the ‘Nehemiah 2’ Category

The Tears of the Christ   1 comment

Above:  Jesus, from The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (1964)

A Screen Capture

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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 13:1-16 or Ezra 1:1-7; 3:8-13

Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

Revelation 7:9-17

John 11:1-3. 16-44

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Jesus wept.

–John 11:35, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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They will never hunger or thirst again; neither the sun nor scorching wind will ever plague them because the Lamb who is at the throne will be their shepherd and will lead them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away all tears like their eyes.

–Revelation 7:16-17, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

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I could take so many paths through the assigned readings for this week.  These readings are rich texts.  I will take just one path, however.

Before I do, here are a few notes:

  1. Abraham waited for God to tell him which land to claim.  Abraham chose well.
  2. Lot chose land on his own.  He chose poorly.  However, at the time he seemed to have chosen wisely; he selected fertile land.
  3. I agree with Psalm 136.  Divine mercy does endure forever.
  4. The chronology of the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah weaves in and out of those books.  I know, for I blogged my way through them in chronological order at BLOGA THEOLOGICA last year.

For the record, the chronological reading order of Ezra-Nehemiah follows:

  1. Ezra 1:1-2:70; Nehemiah 7:6-73a;
  2. Ezra 3:1-4:5;
  3. Ezra 5:1-6:22;
  4. Ezra 4:6-24;
  5. Nehemiah 1:1-2:20;
  6. Nehemiah 3:1-4:17;
  7. Nehemiah 5:1-19;
  8. Nehemiah 6:1-7:5;
  9. Nehemiah 11:1-12:47;
  10. Nehemiah 13:1-31;
  11. Nehemiah 9:38-10:39;
  12. Ezra 7:1-10:44; and
  13. Nehemiah 7:73b-9:38.

I take my lead in this post from the New Testament readings.  Tears are prominent in both of them.  Tears are on my mind during the COVID-19 pandemic.  They are also on my mind as I continue to mourn the violent death of my beloved.  Her departure from this side of the veil of tears has left me shaken and as forever changed me.

The full divinity and full humanity of Jesus are on display in John 11.  We read that Jesus wept over the death of his friend, St. Lazarus of Bethany.  We also read of other people mourning and weeping in the immediate area.  We may not pay much attention to that.  We may tell ourselves, “Of course, they grieved and wept.”  But two words–“Jesus wept”–remain prominent.

There is a scene in The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (1964) that fits this theme.  At the time, Hollywood studios had recently released technicolor movies about a Jesus who had no tear ducts yet had an impressive command of Elizabethan English while resembling a Northern European.  Yet Pier Paolo Pasolini, who committed about half of the Gospel of Matthew to film, presented a Jesus who had tear ducts.  Immediately after the off-camera decapitation of St. John the Baptist, the next shot was a focus on Christ’s face.  He was crying.  So were the men standing in front of him.

Jesus wept.

We weep.  Jesus weeps with us until the day God will wipe away all tears of those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 23, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE ALMSGIVER, PATRIARCH OF ALEXANDRIA

THE FEAST OF CHARLES KINGSLEY, ANGLICAN PRIEST, NOVELIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD GRUBB, ENGLISH QUAKER AUTHOR, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JAMES D. SMART, CANADIAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF PHILLIPS BROOKS, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF MASSACHUSETTS, AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2021/01/23/devotion-for-proper-19-year-d-humes/

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Israel’s True Power and Strength   Leave a comment

Above:  King John Hyrcanus I

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART III

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Judith 4:1-6:2

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Holofernes represented an oppressive violent power and an ego-driven monarch.  The general had succeeded in his previous campaigns, even against people who had greeted his army with garlands, dancing, and the sound of timbrels (2:1-3:10).  The Israelites were in dire straits as he turned his attention toward them.

Yet the Israelites worshiped God.  They prayed to God.  And, as even Achior, the Ammonite leader acknowledged, the Israelites’ power and strength resided in God.  Yet Holofernes asked scornfully,

Who is God beside Nebuchadnezzar?

–Judith 6:2b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Achior found refuge with the Israelites, at least.

A refresher on the Kingdom of Ammon and on the Ammonites is in order.

  1. “Ammon” comes from Benammi, both the son and grandson of Lot (Genesis 19:30-38).  Lot’s daughters had gotten their father drunk then seduced him.  They gave birth to the founders of the Moabite and Ammonite peoples.
  2. The attitude toward the Ammonites in the Bible is mostly negative.
  3. The Kingdom of Ammon was east of the River Jordan and north of Moab.  
  4. The Kingdom of Ammon, a vassal state of Israel under Kings David and Solomon.  After Ammon reasserted itself, it became a vassal state of the Neo-Assyrian Empire then the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  A failed rebellion led to mass deportations of Ammonites and the colonization of their territory by Chaldeans.

Anyone who wants to read more about the Ammonites in the Bible may want to follow the following reading plan:

  1. Genesis 19;
  2. Numbers 21;
  3. Deuteronomy 2, 3, 23;
  4. Joshua 12, 13;
  5. Judges 3, 10, 11, 12;
  6. 1 Samuel 10, 11, 12, 14;
  7. 2 Samuel 8, 10, 11, 12, 17, 23;
  8. 1 Kings 11, 14;
  9. 2 Kings 23, 24;
  10. 1 Chronicles 11, 18, 19, 20;
  11. 2 Chronicles 12, 20, 24, 26, 27;
  12. Ezra 9;
  13. Nehemiah 2, 4, 13;
  14. Psalm 83;
  15. Isaiah 11;
  16. Jeremiah 9, 25, 27, 40, 41, 49;
  17. Ezekiel 21, 25;
  18. Daniel 11;
  19. Amos 1;
  20. Zephaniah 2;
  21. Judith 1, 5, 6, 7, 14;
  22. 1 Maccabees 5; and
  23. 2 Maccabees 4, 5.

Back to Achior…

A close reader of Achior’s report (5:6-21) may detect some details he got wrong.  Not all characters speak accurately in every matter.  One may expect an outsider to misunderstand some aspects of the Israelite story.

At the end of the Chapter 6, we see the conflict between the arrogance of enemies of God and the humility of Israelites.  We know that, in the story, the Israelites could turn only to God for deliverance.  Anyone familiar with the Hebrew prophets ought to know that this theme occurs in some of the prophetic books, too.

In the context contemporary to the composition of the Book of Judith, Jews had endured Hellenistic oppression under the Seleucid Empire.  Jews had won the independence of Judea.  John Hyrcanus I (reigned 135-104 B.C.E.; named in 1 Maccabees 13:53 and 16:1-23) had ordered the destruction of the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerazim and forced many people to convert to Judaism.  The persecuted had become persecutors.  This was certainly on the mind of the anonymous author of the Book of Judith.

May we, collectively and individually, do to others as we want them to do to us, not necessarily as they or others have done to us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE TENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF WALTER CISZEK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIERST AND POLITICAL PRISONER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATUS OF LUXEUIL AND ROMARIC OF LUXEUIL, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS AND ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF ERIK CHRISTIAN HOFF, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND ORGANIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER, U.S. QUAKER ABOLITIONIST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIN SHKURTI, ALBANIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1969

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The Prayer of Nehemiah and His Mission to Jerusalem   2 comments

Above:  Nehemiah the Cupbearer

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 2 KINGS 22-25, 1 ESDRAS, 2 CHRONICLES 34-36, EZRA, AND NEHEMIAH

PART XV

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Nehemiah 1:1-2:20

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Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:

“May they prosper who love you.

Peace be within your walls

and quietness within your towers.

For my brethren and companions’ sake,

I pray for your prosperity.

Because of the house of the LORD our God,

I will seek to do you good.”

–Psalm 122:6-9, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Circa 445 B.C.E., during the reign (465-424 B.C.E.) of Artaxerxes I, King of the Persians and the Medes…

Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king.  If anyone was going to poison the royal wine, Nehemiah would drink it and suffer the consequences.

Nehemiah had a well-honed sense of national sin and of complete dependence on God.  He also understood divine mercy.  Fortunately, he swayed Artaxerxes I, who allowed him to travel to Jerusalem.  Unfortunately, Nehemiah contended with opposition.  Of course he did.  That was consistent with the readings for the previous post in this series.

Nehemiah also carried a letter from the king.  Our hero resumed the construction of the city and its walls.  This was risky, for (1) opposition remained strong and (2) Artaxerxes I changed his mind easily.  The king was, after all, one of the models for the capricious, lazy, and easily-swayed Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther.

Aren’t we glad that mercurial potentates no longer rule?  (I ask that question sarcastically.)

Nehemiah combined trust in God with political savvy.  He knew when and how to speak to the king.  Nehemiah understood what to say.  He knew how to follow God, work in the world as it is, and accomplish his goals without tarnishing himself morally.  Nehemiah’s overriding goal was to improve the lives of his people, the Jews.

As we move in the world, we need to know that piety alone is insufficient.  So are good intentions and high ideals.  We need to wed all of the above with savvy tactics that do not betray all of the above.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 9, 2020 COMMON ERA

PROPER 14:  THE TENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT EDITH STEIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN AND PHILOSOPHER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HERMAN OF ALASKA, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MONK AND MISSIONARY TO THE ALEUT

THE FEAST OF JOHN DRYDEN, ENGLISH PURITAN THEN ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF MARY SUMNER, FOUNDRESS OF THE MOTHERS’ UNION

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Affirming the Dignity of Work in Words and Deeds, Part II   1 comment

Above:  Labor Day, by Samuel D. Ehrhart

Published in Puck Magazine, September 1, 1909

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-26406

FOR LABOR DAY (U.S.A.)

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) contains a collect and assigned readings for Labor Day.

Interdependence is a cardinal virtue in the Law of Moses.  Interdependence is also obvious, or should be.  Somehow, especially in the global West, the idea of rugged individualism persists.  Yet, no matter how hard or well one works, one drives on roads other people built, relies on technology other people invented or maintain, and depends on many other people might guess at first thought.  Anyone who can read this post with comprehension relies on hosts of educators, for example.

As I affirm that I depend on the work of others, just as others depend on my work, I also affirm the dignity of work.  Therefore, I argue for certain propositions:

  1. Nobody should have to work in a death trap or a sweatshop;
  2. All wages should be living wages;
  3. People should work to live, not live to work;
  4. Union organizing and collective bargaining should be inviolable rights; and
  5. Access to affordable, quality health care is an inalienable right.

Nobody has a moral right to exploit anyone else.  No institution has a moral right to exploit any person.  After all, people should be more important than profits.

Furthermore, all work should benefit societies or communities.  By this standard most jobs pass the test.  We need plumbers and bus drivers, for example, but we also need actors, poets, and novelists.  In a just world teachers, librarians, police officers, and fire fighters would be some of the best paid professionals, but that is not the world in which we live, unfortunately.  It can be, however.  A society is what its members make it.  Sufficient force of public opinion, applied well, changes policies.  The major obstacle to positive social change is resignation to the current reality.

Furthermore, the best kind of work is also indistinguishable from play.  Work ought not only to provide financial support for one but also fulfill intangible needs.  Work, at its best, is something one who performs it enjoys.  Work should improve, not detract from, one’s quality of life.

Work does, of course, assume many forms, at home and out like the home.  One should never forget that a stay-at-home parent is a working parent.  One should never forget that one who leaves the labor force to become a caregiver for a relative is still working, just without wages.  One should acknowledge that those who, for various reasons, cannot join the labor force, are valuable members of society, and that many of them can contribute greatly to society, if others will permit them to do so.  Whenever a society holds back any of its members, it prevents itself from achieving its potential.

May we remember also that, as valuable as work is, rest and leisure are vital also.  Ideally one will balance the three properly.  We know that the brain requires a certain amount of sleep–especially REM sleep–to function properly.  We know that the correct amount of rest is necessary for the body to function properly.  We know that leisure makes for better employees.

Work, at its best, is a gift from God.  It is a gift for divine glory and the meeting of human needs.  Work, at its best, builds up (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively) individuals, families, communities, societies, nation-states, and the world.  One’s work, at its best, is a vocation from God; it occupies the intersection of one’s greatest joys and the world’s deepest needs.

May you, O reader, find your work fulfilling in every way.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 1, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA, DISCIPLE OF JESUS

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Almighty God, you have so linked our lives with one another

that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives:

So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good;

and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor,

make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers,

and arouse our concern for those who are out of work;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with

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

Ecclesiasticus/Wisdom of Sirach 38:27-32

Psalm 107:1-9 or 90:1-2, 16-17

1 Corinthians 3:10-14

Matthew 6:19-24

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 261, 932

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We invoke thy grace and wisdom, O Lord, upon all men of good will

who employ and control the labor of men.

Amid the numberless irritations and anxieties of their position,

help them to keep a quite and patient temper,

and to rule firmly and wisely, without harshness and anger.

Since they hold power over the bread, the safety, and the hopes of the workers,

may they wield their power justly and with love,

as older brothers and leaders in the great fellowship of labor.

Suffer not the heavenly light of compassion for the weak and the old to be quenched in their hearts.

When they are tempted to sacrifice human health and life for profit,

do thou strengthen their will in the hour of need,

and bring to nought the counsels of the heartless.

May they not sin against thee by using the bodies and souls of men as mere tools to make things.

Raise up among us employers who shall be makers of men as well as of goods.

Give us men of faith who will look beyond the strife of the present,

and catch a vision of a nobler organization of our work,

when all shall still follow the leadership of the ablest,

no longer in fear, but by the glad will of all,

and when all shall stand side by side in a strong and righteous brotherhood of work;

according to thy will in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Evangelical and Reformed Church, Book of Worship (1947) 382-383

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Ecclesiasticus/Wisdom of Sirach 38:24-34 or Nehemiah 2:1-18

Psalms 124 and 125 or 147

2 Timothy 2:1-15 or Matthew 7:15-27

–General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, A Book of Worship for Free Churches (1948), 409

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Adapted from this post:

https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2018/08/01/devotion-for-labor-day-u-s-a/

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Mutuality, Society, and the Body of Christ   1 comment

Nehemiah Views the Ruins of Jerusalem's Walls--Gustave Dore

Above:  Nehemiah Views the Ruins of Jerusalem’s Walls, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord God, you have caused the holy scriptures

to be written for the nourishment of your people.

Grant that we may hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that, comforted by your promises,

we may embrace and forever hold fast to the hope of eternal life,

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 23

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The Assigned Readings:

Nehemiah 2:1-10

Psalm 19

Romans 12:1-8

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No one can see his own mistakes,

acquit me of my hidden faults.

Hold me back, too, from sins I know about,

do not let them gain mastery over me.

Then shall I keep my integrity

and be innocent of any great sin.

–Psalm 19:13-14, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989), by Harry Mowvley

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Underpinning much of the Bible is an ethos of mutuality and of recognition of complete human dependence on God.  We are responsible to each other and for each other.  We are supposed to support each other in vocations from God, not seek to advance on the proverbial ladder by kicking other people off that ladder.  And we ought to act based on the knowledge that everything we have comes from God.  There is no such being as a self-made person.

St. Paul the Apostle, writing in Romans 12, likened Christian community to the body of Christ.  He meant what he wrote plainly–that Christians are members of each other and that all spiritual gifts are necessary.  Nobody in the body of Christ is insignificant and no gift is too small.

God has equipped all people for a productive role or roles in society.  One vital function of each person is to help others to fulfill their vocation or vocations as the opportunities to do so present themselves.  Whenever I read about a person who has accomplished much, I notice that others helped him or her along the way to one accomplishment or another.  Such helpers tend not to receive the credit they should, but they are always essential.

Nehemiah, who left a position in the Persian royal court, was able, with the help of King Artaxerxes I (reigned 465-424 B.C.E.) and many others, most of whose names have not come down to us, to help rebuild Jerusalem.  The efforts of those whose labors supported Nehemiah’s project were no less important than Nehemiah’s zeal.  The visionary and his helpers were essential, for one without the other would have accomplished nothing.

In the spirit of mutuality we ought to help each other spiritually.  Each of us has blind spots in spiritual matters, but others can tell us what occupies them.  We also need encouragement to continue to do the right things the right ways.  Positive reinforcement is also crucial to maintaining good practices.  A third category of mutual spiritual help is providing feedback in the middle ground between “keep doing that” and “stop doing the other thing.”  Sometimes we are moving in the right direction yet require advice in how to pursue that path more effectively.  Often we have difficulty recognizing our deficiencies in that category also.

A true friend is one who says and does that which one needs, not necessarily what one wants.  A “yes man” is not a true friend.  Within the bounds of social and ecclesiastical friendship we ought to be true friends to each other.  How many of us will fulfill that vocation?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 3, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE EVE OF THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI:  PROPER FOR THE GOODNESS OF CREATION

THE FEAST OF THEODOR FLIEDNER, PIONEER OF THE DEACONESS MOVEMENT IN THE LUTHERAN CHURCH

THE FEAST OF GEORGE KENNEDY ALLEN BELL, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF CHICHESTER

THE FEAST OF JOHN RALEIGH MOTT, ECUMENICAL PIONEER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/devotion-for-friday-before-the-third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Nehemiah and 1 Timothy, Part II: Overcoming Opposition the Godly Way   1 comment

persian-empire-500-bce

Above:  Map of the Persian Empire Circa 500 B.C.E.

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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:

Nehemiah 2:11-20

Nehemiah 4:1-6 (Protestant Versification)/3:33-38 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Versification)

Psalm 36 (Morning)

Psalms 80 and 27 (Evening)

1 Timothy 2:1-15

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Some Related Posts:

1 Timothy 2:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/week-of-proper-19-monday-year-1/

Feast of Aquilla, Priscilla, and Apollos (February 13):

http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2010/01/22/feast-of-aquila-priscilla-and-apollos-february-13/

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Restore us, O God of hosts:

show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

–Psalm 80:7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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I doubt that St. Paul wrote 1 Timothy.  Consider, O reader, 2:9-15.  Allowing for culturally specific conditions regarding hair, jewelry, and clothing, I still detect the stench of patriarchy.  Although St. Paul was a product of his patriarchal context, I contrast 1 Timothy 2:9-15 with the case of Prisca/Priscilla, who taught with the Apostle’s approval.  (See Acts 18:2, 18, and 26; Romans 16:3; and 1 Corinthians 16:19).  That is not my main point, but I feel the need to articulate it first.

Now, for the main idea….

Jewish exiles residing in their ancestral homeland lived within the Persian Satrapy of Beyond the River.  The complicated politics of rebuilding the walls of and Temple at Jerusalem, as told in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, lived up to the joke that politics consists of many small, bloodsucking creatures.  Although King Artaxerxes I (reigned 464-424 B.C.E.) had authorized Nehemiah for a set of tasks, our hero faced opposition from local interests.  Sanballat (the governor of Samaria), Tobiah (the governor of Ammon), and Geshem (the governor of Edom) knew of Nehemiah’s authorization yet tried to stop him anyway.  Did our hero’s role threaten their power, at least in their minds?  That was a likely scenario.  So they resorted to lies and other forms of interference.  Yet they failed for divine and human forces (some of the latter armed with lances, shields, swords, and bows) acted.  The construction workers did need guards, after all.

First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for sovereigns and for all in high office so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life, free to practise our religion with dignity.

–1 Timothy 2:1-2, The Revised English Bible

Yes, it is right to pray for everyone, especially those in authority.  I note the difference between praying for someone and praying about that person.  To pray for a person indicates confidence that he or she can change for the better and remain steadfast in the good.  But to pray about a person can reflect an attitude of hopelessness regarding him or her.  As good as we who claim to follow God ought to be, we should not be naive because, despite the power of prayer, some people will not change their negative attitudes and corresponding actions.  So it is wise to obey our Lord and Savior’s advice to his Apostles:

…be wary as serpents, innocent as doves.

–Matthew 10:16b, The Revised English Bible

May each of us, by grace, maintain that balance.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 6, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF CARTHAGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF ALBRECHT DURER, MATTHIAS GRUNEWALD. AND LUCAS CRANACH THE ELDER, ARTISTS

THE FEAST OF DANIEL G. C. WU, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO CHINESE AMERICANS

THE FEAST OF FREDERIC BARKER, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF SYDNEY

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/devotion-for-september-19-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Nehemiah and 1 Timothy, Part I: A Wilderness of Words   1 comment

02185v

Above:  Forest Scene, 1900-1916

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/99614910/)

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsc-02185

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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:

Nehemiah 1:1-2:10

Psalm 15 (Morning)

Psalms 48 and 4 (Evening)

1 Timothy 1:1-20

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Some Related Posts:

Nehemiah 1-2:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/week-of-proper-21-wednesday-year-1/

1 Timothy 1-2:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/week-of-proper-18-friday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/week-of-proper-18-saturday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/proper-19-year-c/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/week-of-proper-19-monday-year-1/

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Lord, who may dwell in your holy tabernacle?

who may abide upon your holy hill?

Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right,

who speaks the truth from his heart.

–Psalm 15:1-2, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Yahweh, who shall be a guest in your tent?

Who shall dwell upon your holy mountain?

He who walks with integrity and practices justice,

and speaks the truth from his heart.

–Psalm 15:1-2, The Anchor Bible

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This instruction has love as its goal, the love which springs from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a genuine faith.  Through lack of these some people have gone astray in a wilderness of words.  They set out to be teachers of the law, although they do not understand either the words or the subjects about which they are so dogmatic.

–1 Timothy 1:5-7, The Revised English Bible

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Psalm 15 reflects a dialogue between a priest and one seeking entrance to the Temple.  The requirements are ethical–acting with integrity and doing justice to others.  The portion of the psalm I chose not to reproduce contains details about what those entail, per the Law of Moses.

Not keeping that law, according to Nehemiah and other portions of the Hebrew Scriptures, led to the downfall of kingdoms and exiles of populations.  So one reading indicates one way to go wrong.  The other way to err we find in 1 Timothy:  losing sight of

a pure heart, a good conscience, and a genuine faith,

thereby becoming lost in

a wilderness of words

and stranded in legalistic dogmatism.  That is one of my main criticisms of all forms of fundamentalism.

Timeless principles have ever-changing practical applications, which are context-specific.  May we, by grace, not go astray in a wilderness of words.  Nor may we disregard these timeless principles of integrity and justice.  No, may we, by grace, love our neighbors where they are and as effectively as possible.  May neither indifference nor dogmatism stand in the way.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 31, 2013 COMMON ERA

EASTER SUNDAY

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA SKOBTSOVA, ORTHODOX MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT BENJAMIN, ORTHODOX DEACON AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS ASBURY, U.S. METHODIST BISHOP

THE FEAST OF JOHN DONNE, POET AND ANGLICAN PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/devotion-for-september-18-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Commitments   1 comment

Above:  The Far West of the Persian Empire in 525 B.C.E.

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Nehemiah 2:1-9 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, wine was set before him; I took the wine and gave it to the king–I had never been out of sorts in his presence.  The king said to me,

How is it that you look bad, though you are not ill?  It must be bad thoughts.

I was very frightened, but I answered the king,

May the king live forever!  How should I not look bad when the city of the graveyard of my ancestors lies in ruins, and its gates have been consumed by fire?

The king said to me,

What is your request?

With a prayer to the God of Heaven, I answered the king,

If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, send me to Judah, the city of my ancestors’ graves, to rebuild it.

With the consort seated at his side, the king said to me,

How long will you be gone and when will you return?

So it was agreeable to the king to send me, and I gave him a date.  Then I said to the king,

If it please the king, let me have letters to the governors of the province Beyond the River, directing them to grant me passage until I reach Judah; likewise, a letter to Asaph, keeper of the King’s Park, directing him to give me timber for roofing the gatehouses of the temple fortress and the city walls and for the house I shall occupy.

The king gave me these, thanks to my God’s benevolent care for me.  When I came to the governors of the province of Beyond the River I gave them the king’s letters.  The king also sent army officers and cavalry with me.

Psalm 137 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,

when we remembered you, O Zion.

2  As for our harps, we hung them up

on the trees in the midst of that land.

3  For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,

and our oppressors called for mirth:

“Sing for us the songs of Zion.”

4  How shall we sing the LORD’s song

upon alien soil?

5  If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

let my right hand forget its skill.

6  Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth

if I do not remember you,

if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

7  Remember the day of Jerusalem, O LORD,

against the people of Edom,

who said, “Down with it!  even to the ground!”

8  O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,

happy the one who pays you back

for that which you have done to us!

9  Happy shall be he who takes your little ones,

and dashes them against the rock!

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Let us ground ourselves in time and space before we proceed.  Cyrus II “the Great” of the Persians and the Medes conquered the Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C.E.  He permitted the first group of Jews to return to their ancestral homeland one year later, 538 B.C.E.  He died in 530, and Cambyses (reigned 530-522) succeeded him.  After Cambyses came Darius I (reigned 522-486), who permitted the construction of the Second Temple from 520 to 515.  Xerxes I (reigned 486-465) occupied the throne next, after which came Artaxerxes I (reigned 465-424), Nehemiah’s king.  (Thanks to The Jewish Study Bible for the dates.)

Nobody had restored the walls of Jerusalem nearly a century after the first group of exiles had returned.  So, circa 445 B.C.E, Nehemiah, the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes I, sought and received permission to oversee the restoration of those walls.  The diminished state of Jerusalem troubled Nehemiah so much that he had to do something about it.  He committed himself to that great task.

Although the Biblical authors are generally favorably disposed toward the Persian kings who helped the Jews, many of the writings from and about that time have an air of melancholy about them.  The reality of 538 B.C.E. and the following years exists in the shadow of pre-destruction Jerusalem.  The Second Temple was far less grand than the complex from Solomon’s time, the city walls were in a dilapidated state for almost century, and home was part of a far-flung yet generally benevolent empire they did not govern.  Furthermore, Judea was one of the poorer regions of the Persian Empire, a fact of which the residents were quite aware.  There were many reasons to feel discouraged.

Consider Psalm 137 also.  It speaks of a time prior to the Persian conquest of Babylon.  The frustrations of the exiled, conquered, and/or colonized are understandable in any time or place.  These are on full display in Psalm 137, which I have typed in its entirely.  The lectionary said to stop at verse 6, but the full impact of the text requires that one read all of it.  Verses 7-9 speak of violence and the desire for revenge, even upon innocent children unfortunate enough to have been born Babylonian.  The Book of Psalms is honest about raw human emotions, as we should be without condoning certain ones.  But let us not skip over the verses we find uncomfortable.

The text in Luke has a parallel reading in Matthew.  Follow the URL I have provided to read my thoughts about the Matthew version.  It is sufficed to say here that, as I interpreted the Matthew version in the light of the verses before it, I will do the same for this day’s reading from Luke.  Jesus has just set his course for Jerusalem and the events of Holy Week.  So he does not tolerate excuses from anyone.  He has committed himself, so he expects others to dedicate themselves.

It is also worth noticing that, in the next section, Jesus sends the outer circle of disciples out on a preaching mission.  Thus 9:60 makes sense.  It reads, “…your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.”

There is much work to do for God.  May we avoid distractions and excuses; may we begin or continue to fulfill our vocations.  Along the way we may need some help from others of a different religious or ethnic or social group or economic class.  May they do their parts too.  And may we leave behind all baggage that would weigh us down.  May the love of God fill us and drive away all that is not love.

That is a commitment worth keeping.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 21, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ROBERT SEYMOUR BRIDGES, POET AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANSELM, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on April 21, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/week-of-proper-21-wednesday-year-1/

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Posted October 26, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Nehemiah 2, Psalm 137

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