Archive for the ‘Reformed’ Category

First Reformed (2018)   2 comments

Above:  The Blu-Ray Cover for First Reformed

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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FIRST REFORMED (2018)

Starring

Ethan Hawke as the Reverend Ernst Toller

Amanda Seyfried as Mary Mensana

Cedric “the Entertainer” Kyles as the Reverend Joel Jeffers

Michal Gaston as Ed Balq

Written and Directed by Paul Schrader

Rated R for some violent images

One hour and fifty-three minutes long

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The desire to pray itself is a type of prayer. How often we ask for genuine experience when all we really want is emotion.

–Ernst Toller, in First Reformed

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How easily they talk about prayer, those who have never really prayed.

So writes the Reverend Ernst Toller of those, such as some Evangelical teenagers, believers in the heresy that is Prosperity Theology, in First Reformed.  One of those adolescents says,

If happiness came in pill size, it would have JC stamped on it.

Toller, in contrast, writes in his journal,

These thoughts and recollections are not so different from those I confide to God every morning. When it is possible. When He is listening. This journal is a form of speaking, of communication from one to the other. A communication which can be achieved simply and in repose without prostration or abnegation. It is a form of prayer.

He understands what St. John of the Cross called the Dark Night of the Soul.  The teenager with the JC happy pills has no clue regarding spiritual maturity.

First Reformed is a staggering, thought-provoking, spiritually honest and profound work.  The movie, set in Snowbridge, New York, outside Albany, is about the spiritual struggles of Ernst Toller, a former U.S. Army chaplain.  He is 46 years old, divorced, guilt-ridden, depressed, and physically ill.  He drinks too much.  Toller blames himself for the death of his son, a casualty of the Second Iraq War; the father, following the family tradition, encouraged the son to join the military.  Toller, unwilling and unable to justify that war morally, feels very guilty for the death of his son.  The suicide of a parishioner’s husband, an environmental terrorist, sends Toller down a path potentially destructive of more than just himself.  Given that Schrader wrote both this movie and Taxi Driver (1976), the spiritual kinship of Toller and Travis Bickle is obvious.

Toller is the pastor of the First Reformed Church, a 250-year-old congregation that functions more as a tourist trap than as a church.  He has few parishioners.  First Reformed Church is a chapel of Abundant Life Church in Christ and Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational, “Spirit-filled” megachurch in town.  Joel Jeffers, the head pastor at Abundant Life, is at least as morally ambiguous as Toller, who contemplates using a suicide vest.  Whereas Toller understands the Christian obligation of environmental stewardship, Jeffers ignores the issue.  After all, the generous contributions of Ed Balq, a local industrialist and a major polluter, finance Abundant Life’s media programs and much of the community outreach.  Furthermore, Balq is paying for the repair of the organ at First Reformed Church and the reconsecration of the congregation on the occasion of its anniversary.    Jeffers does, however, care about Tollers and want him to be physically, spiritually, and emotionally well.

A pastor needs a pastor,

Jeffers advises Toller.  Furthermore, according to Jeffers, Toller is always in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The reaches its climax in an ambiguous scene, the meaning of which the director’s commentary does not explain clearly.  Schrader wants to avoid easy answers, as do the two reverends in the movie.  I still do not know of Toller emerged from his Dark Night of the Soul, or even if he was alive when the end credits rolled.  I have an idea, but no certainty.

First Reformed is a movie that shuns certainty.  Much of the best art does.  Uncertainty invites the viewer of the art to interact with that art.  My advice is not to watch First Reformed immediately before going to bed, for, if one does, one’s mind will be busy trying to make sense of the film when one should be sleeping.

The cast is excellent.  Amanda Seyfried, actually pregnant while portraying a pregnant widow, plays the character with whom Toller connects more than any other.  If anybody can lead Toller out of the Dark Night of the Soul, she can.  Ethan Hawke plays a depressive very well.  He is believable in his portrayal of a spiritually disturbed minister.  Cedric “the Entertainer” Kyles proves that Joss Whedon is correct; comedians are fine dramatic actors because comedy is more difficult that drama.  Kyles portrays Jeffers as a believable, generally sympathetic character.  The only unambiguous character is Ed Balq, who professes Christianity while destroying the environment and dismissing criticisms as unfounded and politically motivated.  Michael Gaston plays him believably, without the figurative mustache-twirling.

I do have one minor criticism regarding an error.  Why are members of a Dutch Reformed church using Episcopal hymnals?  The answer, of course, is that the structure labeled “First Reformed Church” in the movie is actually that of an Episcopal congregation.  The Prayer Books are out of sight, to present the illusion that the building is for a Calvinist church, albeit one with a central altar and a pulpit on the right.

If you, O reader, seek to watch a spiritual movie that will force you to think for yourself and ponder ambiguities of faith, First Reformed is a movie to schedule.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 21, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MIROCLES OF MILAN AND EPIPHANIUS OF PAVIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ALBAN ROE AND THOMAS REYNOLDS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT GASPAR DEL BUFALO, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARIES OF THE PRECIOUS BLOOD

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN YI YON-ON, ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR IN KOREA

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The script is here.

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Sharing With Others   Leave a comment

Above:   The Traditional Site of the Feeding of the Five Thousand

Image Source = Library of Congress

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For Sharing Sunday (the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Years 1 and 2), according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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As you have given yourself to us, O God, help us to give ourselves to one another in perfect charity.

Thank you for men and women who work for the welfare of others.

Fill them with energetic love to show friendship and compassion with no strings attached,

so that men may be believe you care; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972), 194

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Isaiah 52:7-10

1 Corinthians 16:1-9

John 6:1-15

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“Sharing Sunday” has had different meanings, according to chronology and geography.  In the United States of America, since 1950, it has been the occasion in various denominations for taking an offering for global relief efforts.  The counterpart in The United Methodist Church since 2017 has been UMCOR Sunday.  (“UMCOR” is the abbreviation for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.)  The Fourth Sunday in Lent, set aside as One Great Hour of Sharing in 1950, has remained that occasion for the following:

  1. the American Baptist Churches USA,
  2. the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church,
  3. the Church of the Brethren,
  4. the United Church of Christ,
  5. the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ),
  6. the Cumberland Presbyterian Church,
  7. the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and
  8. Church World Service.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada observes Presbyterian Sharing Sunday each September.  Presbyterians Sharing is a denominational fund to support domestic and international ministries.

Regardless of when a denomination or congregation gathers funds for relief and related ministries, the assigned readings are appropriate for the occasion:

The setting for Isaiah 52:7-12 is the impending end of the Babylonian Exile.  Those about to depart for a ruined homeland in which they had never lived needed all the help they could get.

St. Paul the Apostle was collecting funds for the church in Jerusalem.  This offering was a gesture of goodwill from mostly Gentile churches in Jerusalem, per Galatians 2:1-10.

One of the enduring lessons of Jesus feeding multitudes (as in the 5000 plus, reported in all four canonical Gospels) has been that no gift is too small in God’s hands.

Many people think that they have nothing–at least of consequence–to offer.  Yet all that we have comes from God.  Nothing that comes from God is inconsequential.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 12, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSAPHAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF POLOTSK, AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCES XAVIER CABRINI, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF THE SACRED HEART

THE FEAST OF RAY PALMER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ARTHUR DUNKERLEY, BRITISH NOVELIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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This is post #1950 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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The Sins of Racism, Nativism, and Xenophobia   Leave a comment

Above:  The Tower of Babel, by Jenõ Benedek

Image in the Public Domain

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For Race Relations Sunday, Years 1 and 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Great God and Father of us all:  destroy prejudice that turns us against our brothers.

Teach us that we are all children of your love, whether we are black or red or white or yellow.

Encourage us to live together, loving one another in peace,

so that someday a golden race of men may have the world, giving praise to Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972), 179

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Genesis 11:1-9

Colossians 3:1-11

Luke 10:25-37

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The Second Sunday in February used to be Race Relations Day (or Sunday) in much of mainline U.S. Protestantism.  The Book of Common Worship (Revised) (1932) included four prayers for “Social Justice and Brotherhood,” but Race Relations Day had come into being in time for The Book of Common Worship (1946), with its prayer of “Better Race Relations.”  Meanwhile, The Methodist Church (1939-1968) defined the Second Sunday in February as Race Relations Day in its Book of Worship for Church and Home (1945), which included two prayers for the occasion.

The occasion still exists.  In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) the Sunday preceding the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday, is Race Relations Sunday.  The United Methodist Church calls that day Human Relations Day, to call the

Church to recognize the right of all God’s children to realize their potential as human beings in relationship with one another.

The United Methodist Book of Worship (1992), 423

The assigned passages of scripture contradict dominant ways of the world.

  1. The myth in Genesis 11:1-9 condemns human hubris and reminds we mere mortals how insignificant we are compared to God, regardless of how important we consider ourselves to be.  In verse 5, for example, we read of God having to “come down” just to see the city and the Tower of Babel.
  2. The list of sins in Colossians 3:1-11 is hardly comprehensive, but it need not be.  The main idea is not to act as to harm others and oneself, but to pursue Godly, constructive purposes instead.
  3. The scandal of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is multifaceted.  After one gets past respectable, religious people refusing to help the man, one learns that a Samaritan–a half-breed and a heretic–an outsider–helped.  The parable contains layers of meaning; one of them is that we need to look past our prejudices.

Racism, nativism, and xenophobia are examples of hubris, of failure to affirm the image of God in others, of hatred, and of mutually exclusive biases.  Racism, nativism, and xenophobia are also frequently successful political weapons.

May God have mercy on us all.  Even we who decry the sins of racism, nativism, and xenophobia are not exempt from those biases; we generally rein them in within ourselves, however.  We, as members of society, are also partially responsible for the sins of society, and we share in societal punishment.

May God have mercy on us all and lead our societies to repent of these sins.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 1, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS

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A Higher Unity   2 comments

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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For Christian Unity, Years 1 and 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Eternal God:  you have called us to be members of one body.

Bind us to those who in all times and places have called on your name,

so that, with one heart and mind, we may display the unity of the church,

and bring glory to your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972), 159

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Isaiah 11:1-6

Ephesians 4:1-16

John 15:1-11

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Christian unity has long been an illusory goal.  Divisions were already evident in the days of the New Testament, for example.  Denominations have merged over time, but I have noticed a pattern:  Whenever two or more denominations have merged, two or more denominations have usually formed.  For example, the three-way U.S. Methodist reunion of 1939 produced four denominations, the merger that created The United Methodist Church in 1968 led to the formation of at least two denominations, and, over a period of eleven years (1972-1983), the 1983 reunion that created the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) resulted in three denominations.

The quest for doctrinal purity has long been a leading cause of schisms and continued separations.  The problem with the quest for doctrinal purity has been that the human definitions of such purity have frequently been erroneous–depending chattel slavery, for example.  Such misguided, false orthodoxy has often officially been part of a debate over Biblical authority, as in the cases of arguments over chattel slavery in U.S. denominations during the 1800s.

Not surprisingly, most denominational mergers have occurred to the left, just as the majority of schisms have occurred to the right.

Despite the scandal of denominational inertia, there remains a higher unity in God–in Christ, to be precise.  There one can find the Christian center, with heresies located to the left and the right.  A dose of theological humility is in order; each of us is wrong about certain theological matters, many of which are minor.  There is, however, a core we must never violate.  We must believe (in words and deeds) the existence of God, the Incarnation, the resurrection of Jesus, and the atonement, for example.  If we do not do so, we are not Christians.

Generally, many denominations stand separated from each other because of minor differences while they the core of the Christian faith.  In the core there is a path to a higher unity; we should follow it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 28, 2018 COMMON ERA

PROPER 25:  THE TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINTS SIMON AND JUDE, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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Rich Irony   3 comments

Above:  Part of the Title Page of The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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There is a liturgical joke that highlights certain denominational differences.

In a county seat town somewhere in the United States of America, the First Baptist Church was hosting the annual community Thanksgiving service.  The local Episcopal priest was one of the participating ministers.  When the priest’s role in the service had come, the host pastor said,

Now Father Jones from the Episcopal church will lead us in one of his…written prayers.

Father Jones walked up to the pulpit and said,

Let us pray.  Our Father, which art in heaven….

I was thinking of that story, which could be true, even if it is not, because of an ironic written prayer I read on page 202, from the “Other Prayers for Worship” section of The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972), from the mainline of U.S. Presbyterianism:

For Those Who Write Prayers

Almighty God:  you have no patience with solemn assemblies, or heaped-up prayers to be heard by men.  Forgive those who have written prayers for congregations.  Remind them that their foolish words will pass away, but that your word will last and be fulfilled, in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

This prayer, indicating a traditionally Puritan Presbyterian hostility to written prayers and to prayer books, exists in the same volume as many written prayers for congregations to use.

I find this matter rather amusing and theologically alien to me, for I belong to The Episcopal Church, which has a rich and unapologetic record of written prayers–Books of Common Prayer, even–reaching back through the corridors of time to The Book of Common Prayer (1549) and deeper into the past, to missals and the Liturgy of the Hours, and before that, to The Didache.  If one does not approve of written prayers for congregational use, one can avoid them, but hopefully such a person will avoid the hypocrisy of writing or using a written prayer asking divine forgiveness for those who write prayers for congregational use.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 20, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PHILIP SCHAFF AND JOHN WILLIAMSON NEVIN, U.S. GERMAN REFORMED HISTORIANS, THEOLOGIANS, AND LITURGISTS

THE FEAST OF FRIEDRICH FUNCKE, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, COMPOSER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MARY A. LATHBURY, U.S. METHODIST HYMN WRITER

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The Light of Christ, Part IV   1 comment

Above:  Icon of the Resurrection

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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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:

At least three of the following sets:

Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13 and Psalm 46

Genesis 22:1-18 and Psalm 16

Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 and Exodus 15:1b-13, 17-18

Isaiah 55:1-11 and Isaiah 12:2-6

Ezekiel 20:1-24 and Psalm 19

Ezekiel 36:24-28 and Psalms 42 and 43

Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Psalm 143

Zephaniah 3:14-20 and Psalm 98

Then:

Romans 6:3-11

Psalm 114

Matthew 28:1-10

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The history of the Great Vigil of Easter is interesting.  We do not know when the service began, but we do know that it was already well-established in the second century C.E.  We also know that the Great Vigil was originally a preparation for baptism.  Reading the history of the Easter Vigil reveals the elaboration of the rite during ensuing centuries, to the point that it lasted all night and was the Easter liturgy by the fourth century.  One can also read of the separation of the Easter Vigil and the Easter Sunday service in the sixth century.  As one continues to read, one learns of the vigil becoming a minor afternoon ritual in the Roman missal of 1570.  Then one learns of the revival of the Easter Vigil in Holy Mother Church in the 1950s then, in North America, in The Episcopal Church and mainline Lutheranism during the liturgical renewal of the 1960s and 1970s.  Furthermore, if one consults the U.S. Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (1993) and The United Methodist Book of Worship (1992), on finds the ritual for the Great Vigil of Easter in those volumes.

The early readings for the Easter Vigil trace the history of God’s salvific work, from creation to the end of the Babylonian Exile.  The two great Hebrew Biblical themes of exile and exodus are prominent.  Then the literal darkness ends, the lights come up, and the priest announces the resurrection of Jesus.  The eucharistic service continues and, if there are any candidates for baptism, that sacrament occurs.

One of the chants for the Easter Vigil is

The light of Christ,

to which the congregation chants in response,

Thanks be to God.

St. Paul the Apostle, writing in Romans, reminds us down the corridors of time that the light of Christ ought to shine in our lives.  May that light shine brightly through us, by grace, that we may glorify God every day we are on this side of Heaven.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 29, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PERCY DEARMER, ANGLICAN CANON AND TRANSLATOR AND AUTHOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT BONA OF PISA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC AND PILGRIM

THE FEAST OF JIRI TRANOVSKY, LUTHER OF THE SLAVS AND FOUNDER OF SLOVAK HYMNODY

THE FEAST OF JOACHIM NEANDER, GERMAN REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2018/05/29/devotion-for-the-great-vigil-of-easter-years-a-b-c-and-d-humes/

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Difficulty   1 comment

Above:  St. Titus

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:

Genesis 9:18-27

Psalm 39:4-8a

Titus 2:1-10

Matthew 12:38-42

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Some of the readings for this Sunday are difficult.  Genesis 9:18-27 gives us the misnamed Curse of Ham (“Cursed be Canaan,” verse 25 says).  This curse follows a euphemistic description of either the castration or the incestuous and homosexual rape of Noah by his son Ham.  As one acquainted with the shameful history of racism, slavery, and institutionalized racial segregation  in the United States knows well, the misuse of this passage to justify these sins is an old story.  I know that story well, due to reading in both primary and secondary sources.  Primary sources include back issues of The Presbyterian Journal (founded as The Southern Presbyterian Journal), a publication by and for ardent defenders of racism and institutionalized racial segregation in the 1940s forward, some of whom went on to found the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), schismatic to the Presbyterian Church in the United States, or, informally, the old Southern Presbyterian Church, in 1973.  (The events of 1942-1972 are not ancient history!)  I have index cards from which I can cite many examples of quoting this and other passages of scripture to criticize efforts to work for the civil rights of African Americans, so nobody should challenge me regarding the facts of this objective matter.

Titus 2:1-10 is likewise troublesome.  Insisting upon submissive wives and slaves is indefensible.  If one thinks that Jesus might return during one’s lifetime, one might not argue for social reform.  God will take care of that, right?  Maybe not!  Besides, do we not still have the moral obligation to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  The epistle dates to the first century C.E.  I am typing this post in  2017, however.  The passage of time has proven the inaccuracy of the expectation that Jesus would return in the first century C.E.

David Ackerman summarizes these two readings as focusing

on ways in which God calls Christians to repent of misusing the Bible to the unjust exclusion and oppression of others.

Beyond the Lectionary (2013), pages 37-38

The lack of faith of certain scribes and Pharisees is evident in Matthew 12, for they request a sign from Jesus.  (Faith requires no signs.)  Our Lord and Savior replies in such a way as to indicate

rejection experienced in death yet God’s victory over it.

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003), page 1768

The possibility of death is evident in Psalm 39.  A sense of awareness of one’s mortality and vulnerability pervades the text.  The author turns to God for deliverance.

Sometimes deliverance from death does not come.  Yet, in God, there is victory over death.

May, via God, there also be an end to

unjust exclusion and oppression of others.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 6, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANKLIN CLARK FRY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA AND THE LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLAUDE OF BESANCON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MONK, ABBOT, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF HENRY JAMES BUCKOLL, AUTHOR AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM KETHE, PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-in-lent-ackerman/

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