Archive for the ‘Psalm 55’ Category

Psalms 53-55   Leave a comment

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POST XX OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

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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 226

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The benighted man thinks,

“God does not care.”

–Psalm 53:2a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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In Psalm 53, nearly identical to Psalm 14, the standard English-language translation of the opening is that the fool thinks that there is no God.  The wording varies slightly, but it is usually quite similar.  The translation in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures cuts to the chase.  The word “benighted,” according to the germane note in The Jewish Study Bible–Second Edition (2014), is quite strong, for Amnon, who raped his half-sister Tamar in 2 Samuel 13:13, was a benighted man.  A benighted man denies the ability of God to punish sins and hear prayers, so he lives as if God does not care.  He will learn that God does indeed care deeply.

The authors of Psalms 54 and 55 understood that God cared; they asked God to vindicate them.  Interestingly, the author of Psalm 54, oppressed by strangers, anticipated divine vindication yet did not thank Him in advance.  (Did I detect a transactional aspect to that relationship?)  The author of the longer Psalm 55, betrayed by a friend, asked God to bring

those murderous, treacherous men

down to the slimy, slippery, muddy, and filthy pit of Sheol then noted that he trusted in God.

“You have heard that they were told, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’  But what I tell you is this:  Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors; only so you can be children of your heavenly Father, who causes the sun to rise on the good and bad alike, and sends the rain on the innocent and the wicked.  If you love only those who love you, what reward can you expect?  Even the tax-collectors do as much as that.  If you greet only your brothers, what is there extraordinary about that?  Even the heathen do as much.  There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father’s goodness knows no bounds.”

–Matthew 5:43-48, The Revised English Bible (1989)

By that standard and by the power of God, whom we ought to glorify anyway, may we be extraordinary.  Regardless of how much we fall short of that high standard, may we continue to strive for it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 10, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM WALSHAM HOW, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAKEFIELD AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SISTER, FRANCES JANE DOUGLAS(S), HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT LAURENCE OF ROME, ROMAN CATHOLIC DEACON AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SHERMAN BOOTH, ABOLITIONIST

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Posted August 10, 2017 by neatnik2009 in 2 Samuel, Psalm 14, Psalm 54, Psalm 55, Psalms I: 1-76

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Grace and Enemies   1 comment

Above:   The Death of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Numbers 16:1-5, 23-25

Psalm 55

Acts 14:8-18

John 2:23-25

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Scarcely had [Moses] finished speaking all these words when the ground under them burst asunder, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households, all Korah’s people and all their possessions.   They went down alive into Sheol, with all that belonged to them; the earth closed over them and they vanished from the midst of the congregation.  All Israel around them fled at their shrieks, for they said, “The earth might swallow us!”

And a fire went forth from the LORD and consumed the two hundred and fifty men offering the incense.

–Numbers 16:31-35, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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The moral of the story is not to challenge the authority of Moses.

A recurring theme in the assigned readings for today is the presence of enemies.  The life of Jesus is constantly in peril in the Gospel of John.  One might imagine him repeating Psalm 55 frequently.

The enemies in Acts 14 include those who, out of ignorance and cultural conditioning, mistake Sts. Barnabas and Paul the Apostle for Zeus and Hermes, respectively, after the healing of a man lame from birth.  It is true that the residents of Lystra did not know what they were doing.  We read of Sts. Paul and Barnabas attempting to correct them, to no avail.  If we keep reading, we learn of the stoning of St. Paul by hostile Jews at Lystra, followed by the departure of the evangelists from the town the following day.

[Paul and Barnabas] warned [the disciples] that to enter the kingdom of God we must undergo many hardships.

–Acts 14:22b, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Suffering for the sake of righteousness is an old and frequently perplexing pattern.  We ought to know that God never promised us lives of ease because of our piety, but that we would have divine companionship during such times of suffering.   We also have the model of Jesus, who suffered and died mightily, not because of his own sins, but those of others.  Suffering the consequences of one’s actions makes more sense, from a human perspective, does it not?  Just desserts are reciprocal, after all.

Yet, as we notice often, the just desserts seem not to arrive, at least not on schedule, as we define the schedule.   The righteous suffer and the wicked prosper; that is an ancient lament.  When we interject scandalous grace into the equation we learn that some of wicked might repent.  Maybe we want them to suffer, not repent.  Perhaps we seek the wrath, not the forgiveness, of God for our enemies.  If so, are we not on their moral level?  Should we not dwell on a higher moral level?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDITH BOYLE MACALISTER, ENGLISH NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE VIALAR, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE APPARITION

THE FEAST OF JANE CROSS BELL SIMPSON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TERESA AND MAFALDA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESSES, QUEENS, AND NUNS; AND SANCHIA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESS AND NUN

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/devotion-for-proper-10-ackerman/

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The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Part VI   1 comment

the-denial-of-saint-peter-by-caravaggio

Above:  The Denial of Saint Peter, by Caravaggio

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

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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The Assigned Readings:

Haggai 2:20-23 or Daniel 7:(1-3) 4-8 (9-18) 19-28

Psalm 38 or 55

Matthew 26:57-27:2 or Mark 14:53-15:1 or Luke 22:54-23:1 or John 18:13-28

Romans 9:6-33

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The assigned readings, taken together, focus on the contrast between the justice of God and the injustice of human political and economic systems.  When God destroys corrupt human systems, a better order replaces them.  In the Gospels Jesus becomes a scapegoat whom St. Simon Peter denies knowing.  The options for the Psalm fit the mood of Holy Week well, with the major exceptions of the confession of sin in Psalm 38 and the vengeful desire in Psalm 55.

To write or speak of the Kingdom of God and how it differs from human social norms and institutions is to, among other things, to criticize human social norms and institutions.  To do so, when one dies it properly, is to contemplate one’s complicity in collective sin.  That would lead to repentance, or turning one’s back on sin.  That can, when enough people do it, lead to social reform.  After all, society is people.

May we not deny Christ as he is present among us in the victims of injustice.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 20, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FOURTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMINIC OF SILOS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL TAIT, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CANISIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JOHN BLEW, ENGLISH PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/devotion-for-proper-24-year-d/

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Missing the Point, Part II   1 comment

Christ Pantocrator

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

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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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 29:1-24 or 59:1-21

Psalm 55

Matthew 15:1-20 or Mark 7:1-20

1 Timothy 4:1-6

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But you, O God, will make them descend to the sludgy Pit.

Let not men of idols and figurines live out their days.

For my part, I trust in you.

–Psalm 55:24, Mitchell J. Dahood, Psalms II (1968)

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A recurring theme in the Psalms is the sliminess of Sheol.  That is the kind of detail one can learn from Biblical scholars.

Those “men of idols and figurines” missed the point.  All evildoers who think vainly that God does not know their plans have missed the point.  Those who perpetuate social injustice and imagine that God has not noticed have missed the point.  Those who obsess over minor details of ritual purity laws while condoning the practice of denying necessary funds to people have missed the point.  (This is an echo of a theme from certain Hebrew prophets.)  Those who teach deceitful doctrines have missed the point.

One might miss the point for any one of a set of reasons.  One might be one of the blind led by other blind people and worse, leading other blind people, to borrow and expand upon a figure of speech from the Gospels.  One might be defending tradition as one understands God to have handed it down, as in 1 Timothy 4.  One might not care about not missing the point.  Or one might be self-serving and prone to interpreting morality through that distorted lens.

Heresies are legion, as they have been for a very long time.  A few generalizations regarding them are worth pondering:

  1. Objective religious truth exists.  For lack of a better name, let us call it God.
  2. The degree to which we can know doctrinal truth is restricted, due to the fact that we are mere mortals.
  3. The definition of orthodoxy changes over time, even within any given ecclesiastical institution.  Consider, for example, O reader, the evolution of theology in Roman Catholicism.  Some of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, who were orthodox in their time, became heretics ex post facto.
  4. Objective truth does not change.
  5. Many heresies began as attempts to pronounce orthodoxy in specific circumstances.
  6. Every person is somebody’s heretic.
  7. Every person is somewhat heretical.

We are left to do our best, trusting in God’s grace and commanded to love one another.  Christ is our Savior and exemplar.  The historical figure known as Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnate form of the Second Person of the Trinity, however that worked.  To be a Christian is to follow Christ, who not only spoke of loving one’s neighbors but modeled that behavior, even unto death.

Jesus did not miss the point.

By grace, may we not miss it either.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 16, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTIETH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF GUSTAF AULEN, SWEDISH LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT FILIP SIPHONG ONPHITHAKT, ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR IN THAILAND

THE FEAST OF MAUDE DOMINICA PETRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MODERNIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF RALPH ADAMS CRAM AND RICHARD UPJOHN, ARCHITECTS; AND JOHN LAFARGE, SR., PAINTER AND STAINED GLASS MAKER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/devotion-for-proper-7-year-d/

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Esther VII: Enemies   1 comment

Haman Begging the Mercy of Esther

Above:  Haman Begging the Mercy of Esther, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 7:7-8:17

Psalm 55:16-23

Matthew 5:43-48

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You, God, will thrust them down

to the abyss of destruction,

men bloodthirsty and deceptive,

before half their days are spent.

–Psalm 55:23, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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In Matthew 5:43-48, part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands his followers to love their enemies and to pray for their persecutors.  Those instructions contradict the psalm and the designated portion of the Book of Esther.

In the Book of Esther Haman meets his grisly end and King Ahasuerus grants permission to Mordecai and Queen Esther to revoked the first royal edict and order anything (in his name) they deem appropriate.  Ahasuerus remains a figure through whom others govern.  The monarch orders the execution of Haman and his sons and gives his property to Queen Esther.  She and Mordecai write the second royal edict (as contained in Chapter E, as The New American Bible labels it) in the name of Ahasuerus.  They authorize Jews living in the Persian Empire to attack their (the Jews’) enemies.  Mordecai receives special honors, and, throughout the empire, Jews rejoice and their enemies do not.

How much of this is justice and how much is revenge?  In the Law of Moses the penalty for perjury to convict someone falsely is symmetrical:

If the man who testified is a false witness, if he has testified falsely against his fellow, you shall do to him as he schemed to do to his fellow.  Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst; others will hear and be afraid, and such evil things will not again be done in your midst.  Nor must you show pity; life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

–Deuteronomy 19:18b-21, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Nevertheless, there is a difference between justice and revenge.  I grasp the punishment of Haman yet wonder about the bloodbath reported subsequently in the Book of Esther.    “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” leaves the world blind and toothless in time.

I, as a Christian, read the Bible through what the late Donald Armentrout called the “Gospel glasses.”  The four canonical Gospels contextualize the rest of the Bible for me.  The ethics of Jesus therefore override contradictory texts in my mind.  I am still working on loving my enemies as I understand the distinction between justice and revenge on one hand and revenge and a rescue operation on the other.  Some people will not cease from oppressing because others appeal to their consciences, which might not exist.  Nevertheless, is even necessary violence something to celebrate?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/devotion-for-wednesday-after-proper-12-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Esther VI: Whom to Glorify   1 comment

Ahasuerus and Haman at the Feast of Esther

Above:  Ahasuerus and Haman at the Feast of Esther, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 6:1-7:6

Psalm 55:16-23

Romans 9:30-10:4

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They attack those at peace with them,

going back on their oaths;

though their mouth is smoother than butter,

enmity is in their hearts;

their words more soothing than oil,

yet sharpened like swords.

–Psalm 55:20-21, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Our journey through the Book of Esther takes us through the sixth chapter and part of the seventh.  Ahasuerus, finally growing some part of a spine, recalls that Mordecai had saved his life in Chapter 2.  The monarch asks if the loyal courtier has received a reward for such fidelity and learns that the answer is negative.  Ahasuerus plans to reward Mordecai properly as Haman, who seeks to have the monarch send Mordecai to die, enters the royal presence.  Haman never has the opportunity to say what is on his mind, for Ahasuerus asks him what should happen to the man the monarch wishes to honor.  Haman, imagining that Ahasuerus means to honor him, explains details of an impressive ceremony.  The monarch turns the tables on Haman by instructing him to make those arrangements for Mordecai.  Haman, now in a desperate situation, is about to be in a worse situation, for Ahasuerus responds favorably to Queen Esther’s request for the deliverance of the Jews.  The monarch is angry to learn that Haman has manipulated him into nearly committing genocide.  Haman cringes in terror before the king and queen consort.

I propose that, as one reads that story from the Bible, one should imagine tones of voice and facial expressions.  Doing so makes the account come to life.

I have spent much time contemplating the Law of Moses recently.  Pondering timeless principles illustrated by culturally specific laws which assume a certain level of technology and other factors no longer applicable to many of us today has increased my regard for those principles, such as the truths that we human beings are completely dependent upon God, are responsible for each other, and are responsible to each other.  Obeying divine law is properly a matter of obedience to God, not works-based righteousness.  As Jesus says in John 14:15 (The New Jerusalem Bible, 1985),

If you love me you will keep my commandments.

I suppose, then, that St. Paul the Apostle objected not to the Law of Moses itself but to the misuse of it.  He favored focusing on what God has done, not what we mere mortals have done.  St. Paul was especially fond of fixating on what Jesus has done.

Haman, a proud, spiteful, and amoral man, sought to destroy innocent others to promote himself in the royal court.  Although he was a fictional character, real-life scoundrels who have been willing to sacrifice others (innocent or not) for their own glorification have populated seats of power throughout time.  They have not practiced righteousness, much less works-based righteousness.

May we seek to glorify God, not ourselves.  May we seek to love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves.  May we choose the higher path.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/devotion-for-tuesday-after-proper-12-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Esther V: Courage   1 comment

Esther Before Ahasuerus

Above:  Esther Before Ahasuerus, by Tintoretto

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 5:1-14

Psalm 55:16-23

Colossians 2:16-3:1

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They attack those at peace with them,

going back on their oaths;

though their mouth is smoother than butter,

enmity is in their hearts;

their words more soothing than oil,

yet sharpened like swords.

–Psalm 55:20-21, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Our journey through the Book of Esther picks up with Chapter D (as The New American Bible labels it), which embellishes upon and replaces 5:1-2.  Queen Esther enters the presence of King Ahasuerus.  Perhaps she is manipulative in showing great deference to him, as to win his favor, but we can forgive her that, given the circumstances, which is to say, the possibility of execution.  The monarch is tender toward her and grants her whatever she wishes, which is a banquet the next day with Haman present.  Haman, meanwhile, continues to plot against Mordecai and has an impaling stake (for Mordecai’s execution) erected.  Haman is indeed one who, in the words of Psalm 55, has enmity in his heart.

The advice from Colossians to seek “the things that are above” is always appropriate.  Certainly placing one’s life at risk for the benefit of others falls into that category.  It is a courageous act, one that requires selfless love.  There is no higher love than to lay down one’s life for another or for others (John 15:13).  To risk doing that is close enough to that standard for that category, at least in my thinking.

I read the story of Esther in Chapters D and 5 then ask myself what I might have done in her situation.  I might have chosen the easy way out and laid low.  After all, who wants to die by being impaled on a stake?  The story convicts the great mass of us of our moral cowardice.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/devotion-for-monday-after-proper-12-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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