Archive for the ‘Psalm 137’ Category

The Issue of the Choppiness of Pericopes in the Revised Common Lectionary   Leave a comment

2-thessalonians

Above:  The Second Reading for Proper 26, Year C

Scanned from the Bulletin for St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, October 30, 2016

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) (1992) is a wonderful resource for preaching and Bible study.  With its three-year cycle it covers about one-fourth of the Bible (the Protestant Bible, that is, I suppose).  Certainly the RCL covers more of scripture than does its immediate predecessor, the Common Lectionary (1983) and any of a number of one-year and two-year lectionaries the RCL has replaced in a variety of denominations.  Furthermore, as a number of clergymen and clergywomen have said, the RCL requires them to address passages of the Bible on which they might not have preached otherwise.  Another advantage of reading scripture via a lectionary, the RCL in particular, is that it helps one read passages of scripture in the context of each other.  Scripture is, after all, one context in which to read scripture properly.

Sometimes the RCL chops up passages of scripture, skipping over certain verses.  On some occasions this does not change the meaning or flavor of the pericope; the cut might serve the purpose of sparing the lector of having to read polysyllabic names that have no effect on the point of the lesson, as in Nehemiah 8:4.  Sometimes the cuts create an awkward composite reading yet do not change the meaning of the passage.  For example, the First Reading (Track One) for Proper 26, Year C, is Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4, skipping over God’s reply to the prophet and most of the prophet’s answer to God in the first chapter.  The main reason for this kind of cut seems to be time.  Besides, a good homilist can summarize the cut material, so that omission is fine.  I do, however, object to other cuts.

Consider, O reader, 1 Thessalonians 1.  The verses from it assigned for reading on Proper 26, Year C, are 1-4 and 11-12.  This fact makes me more interested in verses 5-10 than I might be otherwise.  In The Revised English Bible (1989) verses 1-4 read:

From Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians who belong to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friends, we are always bound to thank God for you, and it is right that we should, because your faith keeps on increasing and the love you all have for each other grows ever greater.  Indeed we boast about you among the churches of God, because your faith remains so steadfast under all the persecutions and troubles you endure.

Verses 5-10 read:

This points to the justice of God’s judgement; you will be proved worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering.  It is just that God should balance the account by sending affliction to those who afflict you, and relief to you who are afflicted, and to us as well, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in blazing fire.  Then he will mete out punishment to those who refuse to acknowledge God and who will not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will suffer the penalty of eternal destruction, cut off from the presence of the Lord, and the splendor of his might, when on the great day he comes to reveal his glory among his own and his majesty among all believers; and therefore among you, since you believed the testimony we brought you.

Verses 11-12, the end of the chapter, read:

With this in mind we pray for you always, that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and that his power may bring to fulfilment every good purpose and every act inspired by faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Omitting verses 5-10 removes the crucial link between verses 1-4 and verses 11-12.  It also changes the tone of the reading, dropping the balance of divine judgment and mercy.  I understand that the question of the balance of judgment and mercy in God can be uncomfortable for many people, but that question does recur in both the Old and New Testaments.  I do not pretend to have arrived at answer other than “only God knows.”  So be it.

Omitting uncomfortable verses is a pattern in the RCL, which does not omit all of them.  All one has to do to notice this pattern of avoiding reading certain verses is to pay attention to the RCL’s treatment of the Book of Psalms.  The RCL avoids some Psalms entirely and omits certain uncomfortable passages in others.  The emotions in the Psalms are frequently raw and not Christlike.  This fact might make one uncomfortable speaking, chanting, or singing certain lines in Christian worship.  Nevertheless, the RCL does include all of Psalm 137, even the part about dashing the heads of the children of enemies against a rock.  In contrast, I note that the Common Lectionary (1983) omits the final, vengeful verses of Psalm 137.

I have noticed these omissions more than I used to since I began to teach an adult Sunday School class just over a year ago.  For slightly more than a year I have studied the assigned readings ahead of time so I can lead a discussion of them between the morning services.  More than once I have extended readings in class and led a discussion of pericopes as I have thought they should have been, that is, not chopped up, cut, and pasted.

As much as I affirm the RCL as a useful tool, I also recognize its limitations.  There is, of course, the three-quarters of the (Protestant, I presume) Bible it does not cover.  According to my reading regarding lectionaries, a seven-year cycle would cover just about all of the (Protestant, I presume) material.  How many congregations and homilists are ready for Years A. B, C, D, E, F, and G?  And how much of Leviticus does one what to hear read aloud in church on Sunday mornings?  The main limitation of the RCL is one pastors can fix easily; they can extend readings and restore omitted verses.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 31, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT WOLFGANG OF REGENSBURG, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY BISHOP

THE FEAST OF ALL HALLOWS’ EVE

THE FEAST OF THE REFORMATION

THE VIGIL FOR THE EVE OF ALL SAINTS’ DAY

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The Call to Repent   1 comment

Jonah Preaching to the Ninevites

Above:   Jonah Preaching to the Ninevites, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, overflowing with mercy and compassion,

you lead back to yourself all those who go astray.

Preserve your people in your loving care,

that we may reject whatever is contrary to you

and may follow all things that sustain our life in

your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 47

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The Assigned Readings:

Jonah 3:1-10

Psalm 73

2 Peter 3:8-13

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When my mind became embittered,

I was sorely wounded in my heart.

–Psalm 73:21, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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To alter a familiar quote slightly, I have resembled that remark.  So did the authors of many of the Psalms, such as number 137:

Remember the day of Jerusalem, O LORD, against the people of Edom,

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

O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,

happy the one who pays you back for what you have done to us!

Happy shall he be who takes your little ones,

and dashes them against the rock!

–Psalm 137:7-9, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

That remark from Psalm 73 also described Jonah, a fictional and satirical character who wanted to see the great enemy of his nation destroyed by God, not to repent–to turn around, literally.  (Read Chapters 1 and 2.)  He was the most reluctant of prophets.  Jonah did not understand that, in the words of 2 Peter 3:9b,

It is not his [God’s] will that any should be lost, but that all should come to repentance.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

The rest of the story is that Jonah completed his mission successfully, against his will and to his consternation.  (Read Chapter 4.)  He went off to sulk and became fond of a plant that provided shade.  God killed the plant, making Jonah even more unhappy.  Then God chastised him for caring about the plant yet not the people of Nineveh.

That is how the book ends–on an ambiguous note.  The story invites us to ask ourselves if we are like Jonah and tells us, if we are, to repent.  Not all of us will, unfortunately, but at least we have the opportunity to do so.  That is evidence of grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 19, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANDREW BOBOLA, JESUIT MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT DUNSTAN OF CANTERBURY, ABBOT OF GLASTONBURY AND ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF SAINT IVO OF CHARTRES, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT IVO OF KERMARTIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND ADVOCATE OF THE POOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/05/19/devotion-for-tuesday-after-proper-19-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Discomfort with Scripture   1 comment

Temple of Solomon

Above:  The Temple of Solomon

Scan (from an old book) by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Discomfort with Scripture

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2015, and THURSDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2015

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave us your only Son

to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Chronicles 3:10-17 (December 30)

1 Kings 3:5-14 (December 31)

Psalm 147:12-20 (Both Days)

Mark 13:32-37 (December 30)

John 8:12-19 (December 31)

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Psalm 147 is a happy hymn of praise to God.  Reading, chanting, or singing that text makes people feel good and holy.  But what about other psalms and parts thereof?

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,

happy the one who repays you

for all you have done to us;

Who take your little ones,

and dashes them against the rock.

–Psalm 137:8-9, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

The pericopes for these days constitute a combination of the comfortable and the cringe-worthy.  King Solomon, after obeying his father’s advice and conducting a royal purge after his accession, allegedly received wisdom from God.  He also built a beautiful Temple in Jerusalem, financing it with high taxes and using forced labor.  The Temple was, in the Hebrew religion of the time, where people found reconciliation with God.  And it existed courtesy of the monarchy.  Solomon was using religion to prop up the dynasty.  Meanwhile, the details of Solomon’s reign revealed a lack of wisdom, especially in governance.

Jesus as the light of the world (John 8:12-19) fits easily inside the comfort zones of many people, but the entirety of Mark 13 does not.  That chapter, a miniature apocalypse, proves terribly inconvenient to those who prefer a perpetually smiling Jesus (as in illustrations for many Bibles and Bible story books for children) and a non-apocalyptic Christ.  Yet the chapter is present.

The best approach to scripture is an honest and faithful one.  To pretend that contradictions which do exist do not exist is dishonest, and to lose oneself among the proverbial trees and therefore lose sight of the continuity in the forest is faithless.  Many authors from various backgrounds and timeframes contributed to the Bible, that sacred anthology.  They disagreed regarding various topics, and theology changed as time passed.  Yet there is much consistency on major topics.  And, when certain passages cause us to squirm in discomfort, we are at least thinking about them.  Bringing one’s intellect to bear on scripture is a proper thing to do, for higher-order thinking is part of the image of God, which each human being bears.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 24, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BARTHOLOMEW, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/devotion-for-december-30-and-31-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Devious Hearts and the Unpardonable Sin   1 comment

Appalachian Trail

Above:  The Appalachian Trail

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2011631216/)

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-13022

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The Collect:

O God, we thank you for your Son,

who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world.

Humble us by his example,

point us to the path of obedience,

and give us strength to follow your commands,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 17:5-18

Psalm 17

Matthew 12:22-32

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Keep me as the apple of your eye;

hide me under the shadow of your wings,

From the wicked who assault me,

from my enemies who surround me to take away my life….

Arise, Lord; confront them and cast them down;

deliver me from the wicked by your sword.

–Psalm 17:8-9, 13, Common Worship (2000)

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That Psalmist and the prophet Jeremiah shared the sentiment.

Let my persecutors be shamed,

And let not me be shamed;

Let them be dismayed,

And let not me be dismayed.

Bring on them the day of disaster,

And shatter them with double destruction.

–Jeremiah 17:18, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

That reminds me of some of my prayers at severe periods of my life.  I am glad to report truthfully that I never arrived at the spiritual place of Psalm 137:

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,

happy the one who repays you

for all you have done to us;

Who takes your little ones,

and dashes them against the rock.

–Verses 8 and 9, Common Worship (2000)

To be fair, some people were trying to kill Jeremiah.  And, regarding Psalm 137, vengeance is an emotion common to oppressed people.  Revenge is a seductive spiritual toxin.

Today we have readings about enemies and rejection.  YHWH, speaking in Jeremiah 17:11 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures), says:

Most devious is the heart;

It is perverse–who can fathom it?

I the LORD probe the heat,

Search the mind–

To repay every man according to his ways,

With the proper fruit of his deeds.

This brings me to the lesson from Matthew.  In the Hellenistic world the widespread assumption regarding the causation of a variety of disorders and diseases was demonic possession.  Thus, most (if not all) of the demoniacs in the New Testament actually had conditions with down-to-earth causes–biological or just too much stress.  Brain science, which tells us much in 2014, did not exist two thousand years ago.  In fact, modern science is only about five hundred years old.  Nobody should, therefore, expect the Bible to function as a scientific text or a psychological or medical diagnostic manual.  Anyone who does is pursuing a fool’s errand.

Jesus, in his cultural context, conducted what people called exorcisms of “evil spirits” which had caused everything from epilepsy to multiple personalities.  In his cultural context this demonstrated power over evil itself.  Jesus, in his cultural context, faced opposition from people as being of divine origin.  Therefore they preferred to say (if not believe wholeheartedly) that he cast out demons by the power of Satan–a statement ridiculous inside its cultural context.  Their sin–blasphemy against the Holy Spirit–was being unable to tell the difference between good and evil when good stood in front of them and performed great and mighty acts.  Theirs was a voluntary spiritual blindness.

Why did they do it?  Perhaps they were so attached to their social status and religious traditions that admitting that which was manifest in their presence was the genuine article proved threatening.  At stake were matters of identity and livelihood, after all, and Jesus, by his mere presence, called those into question.  His words and deeds constituted even more of a threat.  So these Pharisaic opponents in the reading from Matthew decided to pursue an illogical and spiritually dangerous course.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit–a sin which requires much effort to commit–is the unpardonable sin because it is deliberate spiritual blindness.  For most of us all our sins flow from either ignorance or weakness.  We either do not know that what we do or do not do is wrong (perhaps due to cultural programming) or, like St. Paul the Apostle, we know what is right yet discover that we are too weak to do it.  In these cases we are either blind spiritually because of what others have taught us or we have clear vision of the moral variety.  But to see clearly in the moral sense, recognize intellectually that good is present, and choose to call it evil because that is the convenient course of action is worse.  One might even lie to oneself and persuade oneself that good is evil.  And how is one supposed to follow God then?

Following God can prove difficult under the best of circumstances.  It is possible by grace, however.  May each of us be willing to cooperate with God in the path God has established.  When God points to an area of spiritual blindness, may we accept the correction.  Such a walk with God will entail times of discomfort, but that is part of the growth process.  Our identity ought to be in God.  Our chief end, the Westminster Catechisms tell us correctly, is to enjoy and glorify God forever.  The specifics of pursuing that goal properly will vary from person to person.  May we support each other in our journeys.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 20, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL HANSON COX, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND ABOLITIONIST; AND HIS SON, ARTHUR CLEVELAND COXE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WESTERN NEW YORK, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANSEGIUS OF FONTANELLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH CADY STANTON, AMELIA BLOOMER, SOJOURNER TRUTH, AND HARRIET ROSS TUBMAN, WITNESSES TO CIVIL RIGHTS FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS AND WOMEN

THE FEAST OF SAINTS FLAVIAN II OF ANTIOCH AND ELIAS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCHS

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/devotion-for-wednesday-after-proper-17-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Love and Forgiveness   1 comment

Christ Pantocrator

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty God, we thank you for planting in us the seed of your word.

By your Holy Spirit help us to receive it with joy,

live according to it, and grow if faith and love,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 42

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 52:1-6

Psalm 65:[1-8], 9-13

John 12:44-50

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Isaiah 52:1-6 speaks of a time, in our past yet in the original audience’s future, when foreigners would no longer hold sway in Jerusalem.  One might imagine faithful Jews saying, in the words of Psalm 65:1,

You are to be praised, O God, in Zion;

to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

Yet, in John 12, Jerusalem was not only under Roman occupation, but a Roman fortress sat next to and towered over the Temple complex, the seat of a collaborationist and theocratic state.  Jesus, about to die, is in hiding and the Temple rulers have been plotting since John 11:48-50 to scapegoat Jesus, for in the words of High Priest Caiaphas,

…it is better for you to have one man die to have the whole nation destroyed.

–John 11:50b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That was not the only germane conflict, for the Gospel of John came from marginalized Jewish Christians at the end of the first century C.E.  They had lost the argument in their community.  Certainly this fact influenced how they told the story of Jesus.  I know enough about the retelling and reinterpretation of the past to realize that we humans tell history in the context of our present.  The present tense shapes our understanding of events which belong in the past tense; it can be no other way.

What must it be like to experience great hope mixed with subsequent disappointment–perhaps even resentment–inside which we frame the older hope?  Faithful Jews of our Lord and Savior’s time knew that feeling well when they pondered parts of the Book of Isaiah and other texts.  The Johannine audience knew that feeling well when it considered Jesus.  Perhaps you, O reader, know that feeling well in circumstances only you know well.

And how should one respond?  I propose avoiding vengeance (in the style of Psalm 137) and scapegoating.  Anger might feel good in the short term, but it is a spiritual toxin in the medium and long terms.  No, I point to the love of Jesus, which asked God to forgive those who crucified him and consented to it, for they did not know what they had done and were doing.  And I point to Isaiah 52:3, in which God says:

You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

I point to the agape God extends to us and which is the form of love in 1 Corinthians 13.  Love and forgiveness are infinitely superior to anger, resentment, and scapegoating.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY OF PADUA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF G. K. (GILBERT KEITH) CHESTERTON, AUTHOR

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/devotion-for-saturday-before-proper-10-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Increased Faith   1 comment

28990v

Above:  A Drawing of a Mulberry Tree, 1919 or 1920

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/npc2008009491/)

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-npcc-28990

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The Assigned Readings:

Lamentations 1:1-6 and Lamentations 3:19-26 (as a canticle) or Psalm 137

or 

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 and Psalm 37:1-10

then 

2 Timothy 1:1-14

Luke 17:5-10

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Proper 22, Year A:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/proper-22-year-a/

Proper 22, Year B:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/proper-22-year-b/

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-twentieth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Confession:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/prayer-of-confession-for-the-twentieth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-twentieth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Lamentations 3:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/20/proper-8-year-b/

Habakkuk 1-2:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/week-of-proper-13-friday-year-2-and-week-of-proper-13-saturday-year-2/

2 Timothy 1:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/devotion-for-january-29-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/week-of-proper-4-wednesday-year-2/

Luke 17:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/devotion-for-the-thirty-ninth-fortieth-and-forty-first-days-of-easter-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/19/week-of-proper-27-monday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/19/week-of-proper-27-tuesday-year-1/

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The readings from Habakkuk and Lamentations speak of suffering because of sins.  Thus they reflect a major theological theme of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Yet, amid widespread apostasy, faithful people remain.  And sometimes the faithful suffer because of their piety.  There is more than one cause for suffering.

“Faith” is a word with more than one meaning in the Bible.  In some instances it indicates an intellectual assent to a proposition or to propositions.  Thus, in the Letter of James, where this is the definition, works must accompany faith.  For the Apostle Paul, however, faith was inherently active, so works were already part of the formula and faith sufficed for justification to God.  The Letter to the Hebrews contains a third understanding, one in which faith is

the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

–11:1, New Revised Standard Version

There it is a valid way of knowing that which we can neither confirm nor debunk by another means.

Faith, in Luke 17:5f, follows the Pauline definition.  It must do so, for the Gospels exist to, among other things, encourage discipleship–following Jesus.  The request for increased levels of faith is a prayer to be able to obey God and follow Jesus better.

That is a proper spiritual gift to seek to increase.  It can enable one to survive suffering and hardship falling prey to anger and resentment, thereby poisoning one’s soul.  No, may we avoid poisoning our souls, by faith.  And may we have more of it, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 1, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PHILIP AND JAMES, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/proper-22-year-c/

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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 Ezra-Nehemiah, Psalm 137

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