Archive for the ‘Psalm 147’ Category

Wisdom, Folly, and Maliciousness   1 comment

Herbert Spencer

Above:  Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)

Image in the Public Domain

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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:

Proverbs 1:-17

Psalm 147:12-20

James 3:13-18

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Great is our God and mighty in power;

his wisdom is beyond all telling.

The Lord lifts up the poor,

but casts down the wicked to the ground.

–Psalm 147:5-6, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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The two main pericopes for this day contrast divine wisdom and human contrast divine wisdom and human folly and maliciousness.  Divine wisdom builds up communities and societies.  It is

first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full to mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.

–James 3:17, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The alleged wisdom of the world, however, is actually folly and maliciousness.  It builds up those who practice it, but at the expense of others.  And it harms those who practice it, for whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves.  “No man is an island,” as John Donne wrote.

I have noticed for years the dismaying practice of engaging in Social Darwinism that would make Herbert Spencer blush and dressing it up as godly.  This has been especially egregious in U.S. politics.  Often being mean-spirited is better for one’s poll numbers than being compassionate and gentle.  Sadly, the condemnations of human folly and maliciousness in Proverbs 1 and James 3 remain relevant, for speaking favorably of programs of social uplift can lead to unjustified allegations from mean-spirited people, many of whom claim allegiance to Jesus.

This is a devotion for the second day of the year.  May the new year be a time for increased levels of compassion and gentleness, of love for one’s neighbors (we are all neighbors, according to Jesus), and respect for the inherent dignity of our fellow human beings during all stages of life.  Being compassionate and gentle builds up communities and societies.  It is good for individuals, none of whom are proverbial islands.  It is strength, not weakness, and virtue, not something to mock.

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-january-2-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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Three Temples   1 comment

Jerusalem and the Second Temple--James Tissot

Above:  Jerusalem and the Second Temple, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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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:

1 Chronicles 28:1-10

Psalm 147:12-20

1 Corinthians 3:10-17

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[The Lord] sends forth his word and melts them;

he blows within his wind and the waters flow.

He declares his word to Jacob,

his statutes and judgments to Israel.

He has not dealt so with any other nation;

they do not know his laws.  Alleluia.

–Psalm 147:19-21, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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The pericope from 1 Chronicles, true to the pro-Davidic Dynasty bias of 1-2 Chronicles, omits certain unflattering details and depicts King David as a champion of fidelity to God.  It does, however, say that David’s bloodshed made him unfit to build a temple for YHWH at Jerusalem.

St. Paul the Apostle, writing while the Second Temple still stood, argued that those who trust in God are the Temple of God:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person.  For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

–1 Corinthians 3:16-17, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

“You” is plural.

I wonder how much better the world would be if more people treated others as parts of the Temple of God–as individuals to respect, if not get along with all the time.  Yet each person has God-given dignity as a bearer of the image of God.  This concept of people–believers, in particular–as the Temple teaches us to treat one another properly.  Even non-believers bear the image of God, and therefore deserve good treatment and basic respect.

I admit that I have an easier time extending basic respect to favored cats and to people I like and who mostly agree with me than to those who annoy me and who seldom agree with me.  Some people think so differently from me that, given the opportunity, they argue about even objective matters, such as what the weather forecast says.  They seem like characters from the great Argument Clinic sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  (Statement:  “I came here for an argument.”  Reply:  “No, you didn’t.”)  So I have some spiritual work to do, via grace.  You, O reader, might not be so different from me in that regard.  The good news here is that we need not rely on our own power to accomplish this goal, for we have access to divine grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 23, 2015 COMMON ERA

PROPER 16:  THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JOHN COPELAND, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/devotion-for-december-29-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Idolatry and Legalism   1 comment

Jesus Healing the Man with a Withered Hand

Above:  Jesus Healing the Man with the Withered Hand

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Everlasting God, you give strength to the weak and power to the faint.

Make us agents of your healing and wholeness,

that your good may be made known to the ends your creation,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 24

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 46:1-13

Psalm 147:1-11, 20

Matthew 12:9-14

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Hallelujah!

How good it is to sing praises to our God!

how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!

–Psalm 147:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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An idol is anything (tangible or otherwise) which takes the place of God in one’s life.  Thus an idol can be a doctrine, an activity, an object, or a figment of one’s imagination.  It need not necessarily be bad; it can be inherently neutral, in fact, for how we think of it makes it an idol.  I am convinced that the Bible is frequently an idol, given how many people put it in the place of God.  The sacred anthology ought, of course, to function as an icon–something through which one sees God.

We read of two different types of idols in the lessons for today.  There are old school false deities and images thereof in Isaiah 46.  Monotheism took a long time to take hold among the Hebrews, hence the many condemnations of idolatry in the Old Testament.  Our Lord and Savior confronted the idol of legalism in Matthew 12:9-14, for he healed on the Sabbath.  Rules said that he should have done that on another day.  To save a life and to provide the most minimal first aid on the Sabbath were “legal,” but healing was not.  Yet, as Jesus demonstrated every day is a good day to perform a good deed.

I suspect that legalists think of themselves as righteous seekers after God.  They are simply following the rules, I think they tell themselves.  Yet they mistake the means for the end.  And, as a result, they often oppose compassionate deeds on a technicality.  As I wrote in the previous post, alleged orthodoxy means far less than sound orthopraxy.  And, if God is love, is not compassion sound orthopraxy?

May we reject all idols, including those which seem to be of God.

DECEMBER 1, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF NICHOLAS FERRAR, ANGLICAN DEACON

THE FEAST OF SAINT CHARLES DE FOUCAULD, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

THE FEAST OF SAINT EDMUND CAMPION, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT ELIGIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/devotion-for-saturday-before-the-fifth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Posted December 6, 2014 by neatnik2009 in Isaiah II: 40-55, Matthew 12, Psalm 147

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Free to Act Faithfully and Compassionately   1 comment

Icon of Job

Above:  Icon of Job

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Everlasting God, you give strength to the weak and power to the faint.

Make us agents of your healing and wholeness,

that your good may be made known to the ends your creation,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 24

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The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 12:10-21 (Thursday)

Job 36:1-23 (Friday)

Psalm 147:1-11, 20 (Both Days)

Galatians 5:2-15 (Thursday)

1 Corinthians 9:1-16 (Friday)

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He  heals the brokenhearted

and binds up their wounds.

–Psalm 147:3, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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One important task to perform while reading and inwardly digesting the Book of Job is to remember who is speaking at a given point.  Consider, O reader, Elihu.  He was an original part of the poem, and he rehashed arguments of the three main alleged friends, who also blamed the victim.  These four characters could not accept that the titular character had done nothing to deserve his circumstances of suffering.  They were correct some of the time regarding aspects of their cases, but they proceeded from a false assumption.

One is repaid in kind for one’s sinful deeds.

–Proverbs 12:14b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Yet the Book of Job tells us that Job did not suffer because of any sin.  No, the narrative tells us, God permitted the suffering as a test of loyalty.

Sometimes circumstances challenge our preconceptions and theological soundbites.  May we recall that we are free in God to love God and to care for each other, not to win theological arguments.  Alleged orthodoxy means far less than sound orthopraxy.

Here ends the lesson, O reader.  Go forth to love your neighbor as yourself, bearing his or her burdens, weeping with those who weep, and rejoicing with those who rejoice.  Be agents of divine grace to those to whom God sends you and whom God sends to you.

DECEMBER 1, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF NICHOLAS FERRAR, ANGLICAN DEACON

THE FEAST OF SAINT CHARLES DE FOUCAULD, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

THE FEAST OF SAINT EDMUND CAMPION, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT ELIGIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-the-fifth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Sin of Anti-Semitism   1 comment

Above: A Star of David in a Stained-Glass Window

Image Source = Roy Lindman

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:RoyLindmanDavidsStar.jpg)

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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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Romans 9:1-5 (Revised English Bible):

I am speaking the truth as a Christian; my conscience, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, assures me that I do not lie when I tell you that there is great grief and unceasing sorrow in my heart.  I would even pray to be an outcast myself, cut off from Christ, if it would help my brothers, my kinsfolk by natural descent.  They are descendants of Israel, chosen to be God’s sons; theirs is the lgory of the law, the temple worship, and the promises.  The patriarchs are theirs, and from by natural descent came, the Messiah.  May God supreme above all, be blessed for ever!  Amen.

Psalm 147:13-21 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

13  Worship the LORD, O Jerusalem;

praise your God, O Zion;

14  For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;

he has blessed your children within you.

15  He has established peace on your borders;

he satisfies you with the finest wheat.

16  He sends out his command to the earth,

and his word runs very swiftly.

17  He gives snow like wool;

he scatters hoarfrost like ashes.

18  He scatters his hail like bread crumbs;

who can stand against his cold?

19  He sends forth his word and melts them;

he blows with his wind, and the waters flow.

20  He declares his word to Jacob,

his statutes and his judgments to Israel.

21  He has not done so to any other nation;

to them he has not revealed his judgments.

Hallelujah!

Luke 14:1-6 (Revised English Bible):

One sabbath he [Jesus] went to have a meal in the house of one of the leading Pharisees; and they were watching him closely.  There, in front of him, was a man suffering from dropsy, and Jesus asked the lawyers and the Pharisees:

Is it permittted to heal people on the sabbath or not?

They said nothing.  So he took the man, cured him, and sent him away.  Then he turned to them and said,

If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well, will he hesitate to pull him out on the sabbath day?

To this they could find no reply.

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The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; 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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Some Related Posts:

Luke 13 (Similar to Luke 14):

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/week-of-proper-25-monday-year-1/

Luke 6 (Similar to Luke 14):

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/12/week-of-proper-18-monday-year-1/

Mark 3 (Similar to Luke 14):

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/week-of-2-epiphany-wednesday-year-1/

Romans 9:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/proper-13-year-a/

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Anti-Semitism has overlapped with Christianity since the earliest decades of the latter.  Witness the anti-Jewish virulence in the Gospel of John, for example.  There is also palpable resentment against the Jews evident in the text of the Gospel of Matthew.  So, due to resentments, misunderstandings (some of them born of this day’s reading from Luke 14), and learned hatred, professing Christians have despised, marginalized, murdered, and justified the murders of Jews for nearly two thousand years.  For example, when the “knights” of the First Crusade headed off to kill Muslims (among others) in the Holy Land, they stopped to muder European Jews first.  God, they thought, approved of all this.

If people had thought independently, however, they might have considered a few facts:

  • Jesus was Jewish.
  • The Apostles were Jewish.
  • Paul of Tarsus was Jewish.
  • Paul of Tarsus was not Anti-Semitic.

Anti-Semitism is a sin in any form, at any place, at any time.  The Jews are, as the Blessed Pope John Paul II said, our elder brothers and sisters in faith.  I, as a Gentile, am a limb grafted onto their tree.  Judaism and Christianity are distinct religions; this is a simple fact.  Yet there need be no animosity between them.

Yet let us be clear about what is and what is not Anti-Semitic.  Rendering an honest and well-thought-out critique of policies of the State of Israel is not Anti-Semitic, but saying that one has a duty to destroy that nation-state is.  Too often we humans flit about from one extreme to another.  Christian guilt over thousands of years of Anti-Semitism ought not lead to giving a certain nation-state carte blanche, free of criticism.  In plain language, the Palestinians have rights, too.  They have these rights because they are also human beings created in the image of God.

My dream is one of a world in which all of us, regardless of our ethnic or religious backgrounds, will recognize each other’s basic human rights and respect each other.  When we disagree, we will do so respectfully.  Jesus, a practicing Jew, would approve.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 13, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANCES PERKINS, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF LABOR

THE FEAST OF IHAIA TE AHU, ANGLICAN PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/week-of-proper-25-friday-year-1/

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Posted May 9, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Islam, Psalm 147, Romans 9

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The Call of God, With All Its Responsibilities   2 comments

Above:  Clouds at Sunset

Image Source = Fir0002

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sunset02.jpg)

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Isaiah 40:21-31 (New Revised Standard Version):

Have you not known?  Have you not heard?

Has it not been told you from the beginning?

Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,

and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;

who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,

and spreads them like a tent to live in;

who brings princes to naught,

and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,

scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,

when he blows upon them, and they wither,

and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

To whom then will you compare me?

or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

Lift up your eyes on high and see:

Who created these?

He who brings out their host and numbers them,

calling them all by name;

because he is great in strength,

mighty in power,

not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob,

and speak, O Israel,

My way is hidden from the LORD,

and my right is disregarded by my God?

Have you not known?  Have you not heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,

and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm 147:1-12, 21c (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Hallelujah!

How good it is to sing praises to our God!

how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!

2  The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem;

he gathers the exiles of Israel.

3  He heals the brokenhearted

and binds up their wounds.

4  He counts the number of the stars

and call s them all by their names.

5  Great is our LORD and mighty in power;

there is no limit to his wisdom.

6  The LORD lifts up the lowly,

but casts the wicked to the ground.

7  Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;

make music to our God upon the harp.

8  He covers the heavens with clouds

and prepares the rain for the earth;

9  He makes grass to grow upon the mountains

and green plants to serve mankind.

10  He provides food for flocks and herds

and for the young ravens when they cry.

11  He is not impressed by the might of a horse;

he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;

12  But the LORD has pleasure in those who fear him,

in those who await his gracious favor.

21c  Hallelujah!

1 Corinthians 9:16-23 (New Revised Standard Version):

If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!  For if I do this on my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission.  When then is my reward?  Just this:  that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free if charge, as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became a Jew, in order to win Jews.  To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, so I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Mark 1:29-39 (New Revised Standard Version):

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.  He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.  Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.  And the whole city was gathered around the door.  And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  And Simon and his companions hunted for him.  When they found him, they said to him,

Everyone is searching for you.

He answered,

Let us go on to the neighboring towns , so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.

And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A:

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

Isaiah 40:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/eleventh-day-of-advent/

Mark 1:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/17/week-of-1-epiphany-wednesday-year-1/

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In the Autumn of 1991, during my first quarter at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, Georgia, my father was the newly appointed pastor the Sumner United Methodist Church, Sumner, Georgia.  I did not know it yet, but I was on the cusp of converting to The Episcopal Church, which I did at St. Anne’s Church, Tifton, on December 22, 1991.  (http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/20/reflections-upon-the-eighteenth-anniversary-of-my-confirmation/)  In the meantime, however, I was still a United Methodist.  One Sunday morning, while teaching adult Sunday School, I offended someone by accident.

You, O reader, might wonder what terrible thing I said, what utterly offensive comment I made.  I will tell you.  I was discussing grace, especially the prevenient variety, by which God brings us into the Christian fold.  God does beckon us, after all.  I offered a scenario:  God is beckoning a non-Christian man, who responds favorably and obediently to God’s prevenient grace yet dies before making a profession of faith.  Does the man go to Heaven or to Hell?  In other words, will God be faithful to this man, who had responded favorably to him?  Most people said that the man would go to Heaven.  But two visitors, a daughter and son-in-law of a member, said that he would go to Hell, for he had not made a profession of faith and been baptized yet.  I made clear in a polite and civilized way, in a pleasant and conversational tone, and free of any insult or hint thereof, that I disagreed.

That was my offense.  I disagreed.  I learned after the fact that the visitors had taken offense.  I was unapologetic then, as I remain, for another person’s thin theological skin is not my responsibility.

And I remain convinced that we human beings ought to admit that the only limits on grace and divine forgiveness are those God imposes on them, and that only God knows what those limits are.  Or, as David said in 2 Samuel 24:14,

…let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.  (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition)

Grace is of the essence.  With that summary, let us work through the readings for this Sunday.

The lesson from Isaiah 40 predicts the liberation of Jews from the Babylonian Exile.  This is a chapter of comfort, as it begins with these words:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and cry to her

that her warfare is ended,

that her iniquity is pardoned,

that she has received from the LORD’s hand

double for all her sins.

(Isaiah 40:1-2, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition)

The God of Isaiah 40 and Psalm 147 is the Creator, the judge who also shows mercy, looks favorably upon the faithful, and is infinitely wise.  The chapter, which begins with “…comfort my people,” ends with the promise that God will grant “power to the faint.”

That power enabled Paul the Apostle to persist faithfully through death threats, beatings, imprisonments, and a shipwreck, all the way until an employee of the Roman Empire cut his head off.  Grace moved Paul from the “right side of the law” and placed him in risky situations.  This was not cheap grace, that which demands nothing of one and is therefore useless.  No, it was costly grace–free in so far as Paul received it freely–but costly in terms of what it demanded of him.  The restrictions of Torah law no longer applied to him, but the law of the love of Christ demanded his all.

Jesus, of course, was perfect as well as fully human and fully divine.  Yet even he needed to get away, find quiet time, and pray.  A day full of healing will take a great deal out of a Messiah, I suppose.  He was grace incarnate.  It was Christ whom Paul preached and followed from his conversion to his execution.  It is Jesus whom we ought to follow, if we are not doing so already, and to whom God beckons people.

And if even Jesus needed to be quiet and to pray, how much more do we need to do these?  I live in a technology-soaked society, where many people are never really “away from it all” (except when sleeping) because somebody can contact them the rest of the time.  This is not healthy.  We need to nourish ourselves with peace, quiet, and God.  Otherwise, we will nothing constructive to offer anyone else.

Paul had a vocation as an evangelist and ultimately a martyr.  I have my vocation, and you, O reader, have yours.  The details of our vocations will vary according to various factors, but the principle is the same:  to glorify God, to be a light of God to others, to encourage our fellow Christians in their discipleship, to attract others to our Lord and Savior, to understand that there is no distinction between evangelism and positive social action.  As Shirwood Eliot Wirt, a close associate of Billy Graham wrote in the final chapter of The Social Conscience of the Evangelical (1968):

James was not wrong when he demanded that Christians show their faith by their works.  Jesus Christ was not wrong when he told his listeners in effect to stop sitting on their hands and to get to work doing God’s will.  He did not come to earth to split theological hairs, but to minister to a world in need and to save men out of it for eternity.  It is time the air is cleared.  To pit social action against evangelism is to raise a phony issue, one that Jesus would have spiked in a sentence.  He commanded his disciples to spread the Good News, and to let their social concern be made manifest through the changed lives of persons of ultimate worth.  (Page 154)

If I love my neighbor as I love myself, I cannot say honestly that I do not care about the injustice he or she endures, that he or she does not earn a living wage, that a flawed justice system convicted and sent him or her to prison unjustly, that he or she suffers under the weight of undue stigma, et cetera.  Grace demands me to care about all this and to act accordingly as well as whether my neighbor has a positive, growing relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. These are some of my responsibilities.  They are also yours.

God’s hands are my hands–and yours.  God’s voice is my voice–and yours.  May they be useful and eloquent, respectively.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 19, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SADHU SUNDAR SINGH, TEACHER AND EVANGELIST

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/19/fifth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-b/

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