Archive for the ‘Romans 13’ Category

St. Paul’s Second Missionary Journey   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of St. Paul the Apostle

Image in the Public Domain

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING LUKE-ACTS, PART LXIX

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Acts 15:36-18:23

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

STS. PAUL, BARNABAS, AND MARK

I begin by backing up to 13:13:

Paul and his friends went by sea from Perga in Pamphylia where John left them to go back to Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

John was St. (John) Mark.

The tone in 13:13 is neutral.  The verse does not explain why St. (John) Mark returned to Jerusalem.  Consulting commentaries uncovers a variety of possible reasons and the intimation that St. Luke was being diplomatic in 13:13.

If St. Luke was diplomatic in 13:13, his diplomacy had ceased by 15:38:

…but Paul was not in favour of taking along the very man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had refused to share in their work.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

St. (John) Mark and St. (Joseph) Barnabas were cousins.  Naturally, then, St. Barnabas (“son of encouragement”) wanted to include his kinsman.  Yet human frailty broke up the team from the First Missionary Journey.  Sts. Barnabas and Paul separated.

A few years later, by the middle 50s C.E., St. Paul had forgiven St. Mark.

Aristarchus, who is here in prison with me, sends his greetings, and so does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas–you were sent some instructions about him, if he comes to you, give him a warm welcome….

–Colossians 4:10, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

St. Barnabas reunited with St. Mark shortly after separating from St. Paul.  The cousins embarked on a mission to Cyprus (Acts 15:39).

St. Paul seems never to have reconciled with St. Barnabas.  Nevertheless, the reference to St. Barnabas in 1 Corinthians 9:6, in the early 50s C.E., is not hostile:

Are Barnabas and I the only ones who are not allowed to stop working?

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

STS. PAUL AND SILAS

St. Paul found a new missionary partner, St. Silas/Silvanus, and embarked on the Second Missionary Journey.  St. Timothy joined the team early in the journey.  St. Luke was part of the team, too, based on “we” (Acts 16:10-17).

During the Second Missionary Journey, St. Paul founded the house churches at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth, to whom he subsequently addressed epistles.  Yet opponents continued to work against the success of the mission.

DYNAMICS OF POWER:  THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND THE ROMAN EMPIRE

One crucial detail of 16:25-40 is that Sts. Paul and Silas were Roman citizens.  Therefore, the beating and incarceration of them without trial was illegal.  The possible penalties for those who had abused Sts. Paul and Silas included disqualification from holding public office (at best) to execution (at worse).  Therefore, the magistrates at Philippi tried to sweep this matter under the proverbial rug; they begged Sts. Paul and Silas to leave.

Paul’s citizenship is an important, although ironic, feature of his apologia in Acts.  In this regard, Paul’s acceptance of Philippi’s official apology (see v. 39) symbolizes his general attitude toward Rome in Acts.  His point is that Rome is unable to subvert the work of God’s salvation in the world; and even this great empire must come hat in hand to the prophets of the Most High God.

–Robert W. Wall, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 10 (2002), 235

Notably, one house church in Philippi met at the home of St. Lydia (a woman, obviously), a Gentile.  The other house church met in the home of the jailer.

Paul’s strategic acceptance of their apology (16:39) suggests a reversal of power that has become an important political matter only after the households of faith have been established in Philippi.  The proper role of civil authority is not to dictate terms so that the church becomes yet another institution of its power.  Rather civil authority is now obliged to safeguard the deposit of faith in their city as an institution of divine power (cf. Rom. 13:1-7).  Luke’s portrait of Rome in Acts is of the inability of secular authority to subvert the work of God’s salvation in the world.

–Robert W. Wall, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 10 (2002), 236

The separation of religion and state (in the best interest of religion and of religious institutions, by the way) did not exist in St. Paul’s time, hence the events of Acts 17:1-15.

“The people who have been turning the whole world upside down have come here now….”

–Acts 17:6b, The Jerusalem Bible

These critics were wrong.  The people turning the world right side up.  The world was upside down already.  The Lucan Beatitudes and Woes (Luke 6:20f) made that point clearly.

When we mere mortals, accustomed and acculturated to the status quo, fail to understand that the world is upside down, we may react negatively to those turning the world right side up.  Not one of us is immune to this moral blindness.

THEOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY

The relationship of Christianity to philosophy has sometimes been a fraught topic.  St. Clement of Alexandria (died circa 210) defended the validity of Greek philosophy (especially that of Plato) in Christianity.  St. Clement, the “Pioneer of Christian Scholarship,” accepted secular knowledge as valid; the truth was the truth.  Period.  After more than a millennium of favoring Platonism, Holy Mother Church switched to the thought of Aristotle in the Middle Ages.  St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) would have rejoiced to have lived long enough to witness this change, which he helped to effect.  St. Clement of Alexandria became a heretic post mortem and ex post facto.  Eventually, Rome revoked his pre-congregation canonization.

For the record, I like both Sts. Clement of Alexandria and St. Thomas Aquinas.

I have conversed with fundamentalists who have chafed at philosophy as something that informs theology.  When I mentioned the Greek philosophy in the New Testament (especially Acts 17:16-34 and throughout the Letter to the Hebrews), I prompted greater irritation.  Facts be damned; I changed no minds.

St. Paul used whatever was available to him in service to his mission.  In Athens, Greece, for example, he stood on common ground with the Stoics and the Epicureans when he proclaimed that God, not captured in human sanctuaries, does not need human worship.  St. Paul even quoted the Stoic philosopher Epimenies of Knossos when the Apostle decreed:

…it is in him that we live, and move, and exist….

–Acts 17:28, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Yet the Apostle argued against other aspects of Stoicism and Epicureanism.  Against Stoicism, he rejected pantheism and asserted the existence of one transcendent creator who sustains everything.  St. Paul also replaced the endless cycles in Stoicism with doomsday.  Against Epicureanism, he countered deism with God being intimately involved with creation.

St. Paul worked within circumstances.  He was not a systematic theologian.  Therefore, he contradicted himself sometimes.  (Newsflash:  People do contradict themselves.)  He spoke philosophically in Athens, Greece, but did not dictate philosophically in 1 Corinthians (see chapter 1).  The manner of how he spoke, dictated, and wrote depended on who the audience was and what the circumstances were.

CONCLUSION

The account of St. Paul’s Second Missionary Journey tells of his successes and his failures.  Nobody can succeed all the time.  Success depends greatly on the receptiveness (or lack thereof) of the audience.  As St. Teresa of Calcutta (d. 1997) said, God calls us to be faithful, not successful.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 26, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COWPER, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT ADELARD OF CORBIE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND ABBOT; AND HIS PROTÉGÉ, SAINT PASCAHSIUS RADBERTUS, FRANKISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF ROBERT HUNT, FIRST ANGLICAN CHAPLAIN AT JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA

THE FEAST OF RUGH BYLLESBY, EPISCOPAL DEACONESS IN GEORGIA

THE FEAST OF SAINT STANISLAW KUBITSA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1940; AND SAINT WLADYSLAW GORAL, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP AND MARTYR, 1945

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM STRINGFELLOW, EPISCOPAL ATTORNEY, THEOLOGIAN, AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Eschatological Ethics XII   1 comment

Above:  Isaiah Wall, United Nations, New York, New York

Image in the Public Domain

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Isaiah 2:1-5

Psalm 122 (LBW) or Psalm 50:1-15 (LW)

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:37-44 or Matthew 21:1-11

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Stir up your power, O Lord, and come.

Protect us by your strength and

save us from the threatening dangers of our sins,

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 13

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Stir up, we implore you, your power, O Lord, 

and come that by your protection

we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins

and be saved by your mighty deliverance;

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 10

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

When I compose a post based on lectionary readings, I prefer to write about a theme or themes running through the assigned readings.  The readings for this Sunday fall on the axis of divine judgment and mercy, in balance.  Hellfire-and-damnation preachers err in one direction.  Those who focus so much on divine mercy that they downplay judgment err in the polar opposite direction.

Isaiah 2:2-4, nearly identical to Micah 4:1-4 (or the other way around), predicts what, in Christian terms, is the fully-realized Kingdom of God.  The soaring, positive imagery of Isaiah 2:2-4 precedes divine judgment on the impious and impenitent–those who revel in the perils of their sins.  There is no place for such people in the fully-realized Kingdom of God.

Psalm 50 focuses on divine judgment.  YHWH is just, keeping faith with the “devoted ones” who have kept the moral mandates of the Law of Moses.  YHWH is just, prioritizing these moral mandates over ritual practices.  Rituals still matter, of course; they are part of the Law of Moses, too.  Yet these rites are never properly talismans, regardless of what people may imagine vainly.  People will still reap what they have sown.

Psalm 122 is a hymn of a devout pilgrim who had recently returned from Jerusalem.  The text fits neatly with Isaiah 2:1-4.  Psalm 122 acknowledges the faithfulness of God and the reality of “thrones of judgment.”

Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 21:1-11, and Matthew 24:37-44, like Isaiah 2:1-4, exist within the expectation of the establishment or unveiling of the fully-realized Kingdom of God.  We read of Jesus acting out Second Zechariah’s prediction of the Messiah’s arrival at Jerusalem at the fulfillment of time (Zechariah 9:9-10) in Matthew 21:1-11.  Romans 13:1-14 and Matthew 24:37-44 remind us to straighten up and fly right, so to speak.

St. Paul the Apostle identified the resurrection of Jesus as the dawn of a new historical era.  Naturally, therefore, he taught that salvation had come nearer.  St. Paul also expected Jesus to return soon–nearly 2000 years ago from our perspective, O reader.  St. Paul’s inaccurate expectation has done nothing to minimize the importance of his ethical counsel.

Forbidden fruits frequently prove alluring, perhaps because they are forbidden.  Their appeal may wear off, however.  This is my experience.  That which really matters is consistent with mutuality, the Law of Moses, and the Golden Rule.  That which really matters builds up the common good.  This standard is about as tangible as any standard can be.

Let us be careful, O reader, not to read into Romans 13:14 that which is not there.  I recall Babette’s Feast (1987), a delightful movie set in a dour, Pietistic “Sad Dane” Lutheran settlement.  Most of the characters are unwilling even to enjoy their food, literally a “provision for the flesh.”  One can live honorably as in the day while enjoying the pleasures of life.

Advent is a bifurcated season.  It begins with mostly somber readings.  By the end of Advent, however, the readings are more upbeat.  Just as divine judgment and mercy exist in balance, so do the two halves of Advent.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 5, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF ANTONIO LOTTI, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF FELIX MANZ, FIRST ANABAPTIST MARTYR, 1527

THE FEAST OF SAINT GENOVEVA TORRES MORALES, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS AND THE HOLY ANGELS

THE FEAST OF JOHN NEPOMUCENE NEUMANN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF PHILADELPHIA

THE FEAST OF MARGARET MACKAY, SCOTTISH HYMN WRITER

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Adapted from this post

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Divine and Human Authority   Leave a comment

Above:  Conscientious Objectors at Camp Lewis, Washington, United States of America, November 18, 1918

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

For the Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity, Year 2

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Absolve, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy people from their offenses;

that from the bonds of our sins which, by reason of our frailty,

we have brought upon us, we may be delivered by thy bountiful goodness;

through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth

with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever One God, world without end  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 228

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Isaiah 32:1-8

Psalm 146

Romans 13:1-7

Luke 13:23-30

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Don’t get me started about submission to government authority (Romans 13:1-7).  Okay, now that I have started, I am off to the proverbial races.

The Bible is inconsistent regarding submission to and resistance to civil authority.  Romans 13:1-7 represents one strain.  One may think of Shiphrah and Puah (Exodus 1:15-22), who let newborn Hebrew boys live, in violation of a royal order.  One may also recall the Book of Daniel, with more than one instance of remaining faithful to God by violating a royal decree.  Perhaps one recalls 1, 2, and 4 Maccabees, in which fidelity to the Law of Moses required disobedience to Seleucid kings, such as Antiochus IV Epiphanes and other  (1 Maccabees 1:15-9:73; 2 Maccabees 6:1-15:37; 4 Maccabees 4:15-18:24) .  I would be remiss to forget about Tobit, who violated a royal order yet obeyed the Law of Moses by burying corpses (Tobit 1:16-20).  Finally, the Revelation of John portrays the government of the Roman Empire as being in service to Satan.  In this strain, Christians should resist agents of Satan.

When one turns to Christian history, one finds a long tradition of civil disobedience within Christianity.  Accounts of Quakers, Anabaptists, and other pacifists suffering at the hands of governments for refusing to fight in wars properly arouse moral outrage against those governments.  The Third Reich presents a stark example that evokes apocalyptic depictions of Satanic government.  Anti-Nazi heroes included Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and a plethora of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant martyrs, among others.

Furthermore, the Third Reich has continued to inform a strain of German Christian theology since the 1930s.  When to obey and when to resist authority has remained especially prominent in German circles, for obvious reasons.

Governments come and go.  God remains forever.  Wrong is wrong, regardless of whether one commits it independently or as part of one’s official duties.

Isaiah 32:1-8 depicts an ideal government at the end of days.  In Christian terms, this text describes the fully realized Kingdom of God.  That is not our reality.

Psalm 146 reminds us:

Put no trust in princes

or in any mortal, for they have no power to save.

When they breathe their last breath,

they return to the dust;

and on that day their plans come to nothing.

–Verses 3-4, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The bottom line, O reader, is this:  Love God fully.  Keep divine commandments.  Live according to the Golden Rule.  If doing so is legal, you are fortunate.  If doing so is illegal, love God fully, keep divine commandments, and live according to the Golden Rule anyway.  God remains forever.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 29, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LYDIA, DORCAS, AND PHOEBE, COWORKERS OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Fiery Furnace, with the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING DANIEL

PART III

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Daniel 3:1-31 (Jewish, Protestant, and Anglican)

Daniel 3:1-100 (Roman Catholic)

Daniel 3:1-97 (Eastern Orthodox)

The Song of the Three Young Men

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Satire is a feature of the Book of Daniel.  Satire is evident in the uses of humor and in the exaggeration of pomp, circumstance, and numbers.  The portrayal of kings as pompous, blustery, and dangerous people is another feature of Biblical satire.  The two main examples who come to my mind are Nebuchadnezzar II (the version from Daniel 1-4), the fictional Darius the Mede (Daniel 6, 9, and 11), and Ahasuerus from the Book of Esther.

The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego surviving the fiery furnace unsinged and in the company of a mysterious fourth man is familiar.  It is one of the more commonly told Bible stories.  If one overlooks the references to Nebuchadnezzar II, one misses some satirical and theological material.

The story portrays King Nebuchadnezzar II as a blustery, dangerous fool who defeats his own purposes.  (Aren’t we glad such people no longer exist?  I am being sarcastic.)  Verse 15 depicts the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian monarch accidentally invoking YHWH, not any member of the Chaldean pantheon.  And, implausibly, the end of the chapter portrays the king deliberately blessing YHWH.  In other words, King Nebuchadnezzar II was no match for YHWH.

Who was the fourth man?  The Jewish Study Bible suggests that he was an angel.  Much of Christian tradition identifies him as the pre-Incarnate Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity.  I prefer the first option.  Besides, Daniel 3 is a work of fiction.  It is folklore, not history.  And the authors were Jews who died before the birth of Christ.

The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men fall between Daniel 3:23 and 3:24, depending on versification and one’s preferred definition of the canon of scripture.  Set inside the fiery furnace, the additional, Greek verses identify the fourth man as an angel.  

  • The Prayer of Azariah links the suffering of the three pious Hebrews to the sins of their people.  The text expresses communal remorse for and repentance of sin.  God’s punishments are just, the prayer asserts.
  • The Song of the Three Young Men is one of the literary highlights of the Old Testament.  Two canticles from Morning Prayer in The Book of Common Prayer (1979) come from this Greek addition.  I adore the John Rutter setting of part of the Song of the Three Young Men (“Glory to you, Lord God of Our Fathers,” S236 in The Hymnal 1982).  The Song of the Three Young Men calls on all of nature to praise God and celebrates God’s deliverance of the three pious Hebrews.

The question of submission to authority is a thorny issue in the Bible, which provides us with no unified answer.  Many people cite Romans 13:1-7 to justify obedience to authority no matter what.  However, one can point to passages such as Exodus 1:15-22 (Shiphrah and Puah the midwives), Daniel 3, Daniel 6 (Daniel in the lions’ den), Tobit 1:16-22 (burying the dead in violation of a royal edict), and Luke 6:22-26 (from the Woes following the Beatitudes) to justify civil disobedience.  Perhaps the best way through this comes from Matthew 22:15-22.  We owe God everything.  We bear the image of God.  And we ought not to deny God that which belongs to God.  The proper application of that timeless principle varies according to circumstances.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 15, 2020 COMMON ERA

PROPER 8:  THE TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF JOHN AMOS COMENIUS, FATHER OF MODERN EDUCATION

THE FEAST OF GUSTAF AULÉN AND HIS PROTÉGÉ AND COLLEAGUE, ANDERS NYGREN, SWEDISH LUTHERAN BISHOPS AND THEOLOGIANS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN GOTTLOB KLEMM, INSTRUMENT MAKER; DAVID TANNENBERG, SR., GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN ORGAN BUILDER; JOHANN PHILIP BACHMANN, GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN INSTRUMENT MAKER; JOSEPH FERDINAND BULITSCHEK, BOHEMIAN-AMERICAN ORGAN BUILDER; AND TOBIAS FRIEDRICH, GERMAN MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH PIGNATELLI, RESTORER OF THE JESUITS

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Law of Love   2 comments

Above:  Flowers, after E. T. Fisher, Circa 1884

Publisher = L. Prang and Company

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-pga-12135

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

For the First Sunday of Advent, Year 1

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness,

and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life,

in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility;

that in the last day, when he shall come again in his

glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead,

we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth

with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 105

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 50:1-15

Romans 13:8-14

Luke 1:1-17

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  They exist in balance in the assigned readings.  Mercy on exiles is the promise in Isaiah 40.  That mercy balances judgment on the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, though.  Judgment and mercy also exist in balance in Psalm 50, in its entirely.  The Incarnation, one must realize, was an occasion of both judgment and mercy; rejecting grace leaves one worse off than one was previously.  As for Romans 13:8-14, actions have consequences.  We judge ourselves, do we not?  Or we help our cases.

He who loves his neighbour has met every requirement of the law….Love cannot wrong a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

–Romans 13:8b, 10, The Revised English Bible (1989)

How often have you or I, O reader, treated someone badly or condoned treating someone badly and felt righteous?  Have we not acted contrary to Romans 13:8-10?  Have we not, perhaps, used the letter of the law while violating the letter of the law?  I refer not to “tough love,” academic rigor, et cetera.  No, I refer to callousness.  I refer to that which is inexcusable, certainly in the context of Judeo-Christian ethics.

Yes, some real-life circumstances present moral quandaries.  Whatever decision one makes, at least one innocent person will suffer, perhaps even die.  We live in an imperfect world.  Yet we can, by grace, do the best we can do.  May that suffice.

On other occasions, however, the decisions are easy.  Sometimes loving our neighbors as we love ourselves is clear-cut and places us in no peril.  Thank God for such circumstances!

Yet, sometimes when the moral choice is unambiguous, loving one’s neighbor as one loves oneself places one in physical or legal jeopardy.  This reality pushes back against blind obedience to human authorities sometimes.  In these cases, the higher law (that of God) is the law to follow.  And divine judgment falls on those who perpetuate injustice, as it should.

This Advent and the rest of the year, may we conduct our lives in ways that honor Christ, present in those near, far away, and in places in-between.  May we fulfill the law of God, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF EDWARD KING, BISHOP OF LINCOLN

THE FEAST OF FRED B. CRADDOCK, U.S. DISCIPLES OF CHRIST MINISTER, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR, AND RENOWNED PREACHER

THE FEAST OF GEOFFREY STUDDERT KENNEDY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN HAMPDEN GURNEY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF GOD, FOUNDER OF THE BROTHERS HOSPITALLERS OF SAINT JOHN OF GOD

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Resisting Evil Without Joining Its Ranks, Part II   1 comment

Above:  Micah

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

For the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Holy God, who sent thy Son Jesus Christ to fulfill the Law:

mercifully grant that by our actions we may show forth his perfect love;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 124

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Micah 3:5-12

1 Thessalonians 2:13-20

Matthew 5:38-48

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I could replicate much of the previous post and remain on topic in this post, but I choose not to do so.  No, I refer you, O reader to that post for that duplicate material as I focus on the reading from Matthew 5.

According to The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003), the translation of Matthew 5:39 should read, in part,

Do not use violence to resist an evildoer,

not

Do not resist and evildoer.

Matthew 5:39, in its proper translation, is a problematic passage.  It joins the company of Pauline passages commanding submission to governments, as in Romans 13.  Yet, as some prominent Biblical scholars have asked, especially in the context of World War II, does this advice tell people that they should have obeyed Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin?  One may reach back to Micah 3, with its condemnation of leaders who despise justice.  Should people submit to such rulers?

Matthew 5:43-48 places 5:38-42 in some context.  Although the Law of Moses never says to hate one’s enemies, doing so seems quite natural.  The commandment of Jesus is to resist evil with righteousness, and to love even enemies.  Perhaps they will repent.

Violence is necessary and proper sometimes.  Usually it is improper, though.  May we, obeying Jesus, resist without sinning, without compromising ourselves morally.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

–Romans 12:19-21, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

As Pelagius wrote,

The enemy has overcome you when he makes you like himself.

What moral leg do we have to stand on then?  This question applies far beyond the individual level–all the way to the national level, at least.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 5, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA, FATHER OF CHRISTIAN SCHOLARSHIP

THE FEAST OF SAINT CYRAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS XAVIER, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY TO THE FAR EAST

THE FEAST OF NELSON MANDELA, PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA, AND RENEWER OF SOCIETY

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Eschatological Ethics VI: A New Year’s Resolution   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Apocalypse of John

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

For New Year’s Day, Years 1 and 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Judge eternal:  in your purpose our lives are lived,  and by your grace our hopes are bright.

Be with us in the coming year, forgiving, leading, and serving;

so that we may walk without fear, in the way of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Worshipbook:  Services and Hymns (1972), 158

++++++++++++++++

Eternal God, who makest all things new, and abidest for ever the same:

Grant us to begin this year in Thy faith, and to continue it in Thy favor;

that, being guided in all or doings, and guarded in all our days,

we may spend our days in Thy service, and finally, by Thy grace,

attain the glory of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship (1946), 316

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Deuteronomy 8:1-10

Revelation 21:1-7

Matthew 25:31-46

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

To make a new year’s resolution is a frequent exercise in good intentions quickly abandoned for one reason or another.  In the context of the assigned readings, however, I propose a truly daunting resolution for every year.

Only God can save the world, but we (collectively and individually) have a divine commandment to leave it better than we find it.  This is part of eschatological ethics.  Belief in the return of Jesus is no good reason not to obey divine commandments vis-à-vis our environment (being good stewards of it) and loving our neighbors (nearby and far away).  The current world order is inherently corrupt, based on violence and exploitation.  We have the power to reduce the extent to which that statement is true, but not to create Utopia, literally “nowhere.”

May we resolve to live in the awareness of the Presence of God, who commands us to follow the Golden Rule.  May we resolve to acknowledge in thoughts, words, and deeds that thoughts and prayers are frequently inadequate and a cop-out anyway; that God demands that we act to improve situations when we can.  May we resolve to grasp that the command in Matthew 25:31-46 to care for the “least of these” is too much for individuals, and frequently challenging for organizations, whether public or private.  May we resolve to recognize Christ and the image of God in those who make us uncomfortable and are quite different from us.  May we resolve to recognize immigrants and refugees as our neighbors.  May we resolve, simply put, to love each other effectively and actively in the name of God and specifically of Jesus, who demonstrated his sacrificial love.

Love cannot wrong a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

–Romans 13:10, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 24, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY CARY SHUTTLEWORTH, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Eschatological Ethics II   2 comments

Above:  Countryside Dramatic Evening

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

For the Second Sunday of Advent, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

O God, who didst prepare of old the minds and hearts of men for the coming of thy Son,

and whose Spirit ever worketh to illumine our darkened lives with the light of his gospel:

prepare now our minds and hearts, we beseech thee, that Christ may dwell within us,

and ever reign in our thoughts and affections as the King of love and the very Prince of peace.

Grant this, we pray thee, for his sake.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 117

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Isaiah 33:17-22

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 25:14-29

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Readings for early Advent frequently have an apocalyptic tone.  In this sense they continue from the last four Sundays prior to Advent in many lectionaries.  I know from reading that, in parts of Confessional Lutheranism, the last four Sundays are the End Time Season.  I also hear of some congregations that keep eight–not four–Sundays of Advent, by folding the End Time Season Sundays into Advent.  That plan makes sense to me.

Hopefully one understanding that we are dealing with the end of one age and the beginning of another age, not the end of the world or time.  Science tells me that the world will end in the far future, when the Sun expands and either engulfs it or burns it.  Time, I presume, will continue.

The issue du jour is eschatological ethics.  As we wait for the Day of the Lord–in the Gospel of Matthew, the dawning of the Kingdom of Heaven–when the fully realized rule of God will replace all corrupt, exploitative human systems and institutions–how should we live?  The answer is that we should reject immorality and fearful inaction.  We should be bold and take risks, for the glory of God.  We should double down on holy living.  “We,” of course, is plural; societies, institutions, governments, et cetera, stand in need of reform just as much as you and I do, O reader.  Eschatological ethics are both collective and individual.

We–collectively and individually–have work to do.  It is a great responsibility.  Shall we labor faithfully, for God and the benefit of others?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 22, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK PRATT GREEN, BRITISH METHODIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOMEW ZOUBERBUHLER, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF EMILY HUNTINGTON MILLER, U.S. METHODIST AUTHOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF KATHARINA VON SCHLEGAL, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Eschatological Ethics I: Living in Exile at Home   Leave a comment

Above:  The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

For the First Sunday of Advent, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

O God, whose throne is set eternal in the heavens:

make ready for thy gracious rule the kingdoms of this world, and come with haste, and save us;

that violence and crying may be no more, and righteousness and peace may less thy children;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 117

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Zechariah 10:6-12

Romans 13:8-10

Matthew 21:1-13

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Reading of our Lord and Savior’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Advent may seem odd to some, but not to many members of the Moravian Church.  That denomination has a tradition of using the same liturgy for Palm Sunday and the First Sunday of Advent.  The theme of the arrival of the Messiah unites the two occasions.

The theme of being in exile at home unites Zechariah 10:6-12 and Matthew 21:1-13.  In this matter I acknowledge the influence of N. T. Wright, author of Jesus and the Victory of God (1996) on my thinking.

Zechariah is a book in two separate sections:  First Zechariah (Chapters 1-8) and Second Zechariah (Chapters 9-14).  First Zechariah is historically related to and concurrent with Haggai (both chapters of it), and dates, in its current state, from no later than 515 B.C.E.  Second Zechariah, from the late Persian period, dates, in its current state, from the middle 400s B.C.E.

The Persian Empire of that period was hardly an onerous taskmaster of Jews living within its borders.  There were ups and downs, of course, but Persians were, overall, much better to live under than the Assyrians and the Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians.  Nevertheless, in the context of the militarization of the western satrapies during the Greco-Persian wars and the slow economic recovery in the Jewish homeland, many Jews dwelling in their homeland must have felt as if they were in a sort of exile.  Where was the promised Davidic monarch prophets had predicted?

And where was the promised Davidic monarch in the first century C.E., when the Roman Empire ruled the Jewish homeland and a Roman fortress was next door to the Second Temple?  Roman occupation must have felt like a sort of exile to many Jews living in their homeland.

And where was the promised Kingdom of God/Heaven in 85 C.E. and later, after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman Empire in 70 C.E.?  The Kingdom of God was simultaneously of the present and the future–a partially realized reign and realm of God on Earth, but the Kingdom of Heaven was the promised fully realized reign and realm of God on Earth.  (I refer you, O reader, to Jonathan Pennington‘s dismantling of the Dalman consensus, or the ubiquitous argument that, in the Gospel of Matthew, “Kingdom of Heaven” is a reverential circumlocution.)

For that matter, where is the promised Kingdom of Heaven today?  We of 2018 live in exile while at home.  Only God can usher in the Kingdom of Heaven.

We can, however, live ethically, both collectively and individually.  Love, after all, is the fulfillment of the Law.  May we, therefore, strive to live (both collectively and individually) according to the Golden Rule, and not make a mockery of that commandment by citing doctrine and dogma to excuse violations of it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 22, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK PRATT GREEN, BRITISH METHODIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOMEW ZOUBERBUHLER, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF EMILY HUNTINGTON MILLER, U.S. METHODIST AUTHOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF KATHARINA VON SCHLEGAL, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

God and Country–God First and Foremost   Leave a comment

Above:  Statue of Liberty, 1894

Photographer = John S. Johnston

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-40098

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Patriotism is a virtue, but jingoism and blind obedience to civil authority are vices.  Nationalism can be a virtue, but it can also be a vice.  To worship one’s nation-state is to commit idolatry, for one should worship God alone.

The way denominations handle the relationship to civil government can be interesting.  According to the North American Lutheran service books I have consulted, neither July 1 (Canada Day) nor July 4 is on the ecclesiastical calendar, but there are propers for a national holiday of those sorts.  Given the historical Lutheran theology of obedience to civil government, the lack of feast days for Canada Day and Independence Day (U.S.A.) surprises me.  Perhaps it should not surprise me, though, given the free church (versus state church) experience of Lutherans in North America since the first Lutheran immigrants arrived, during the colonial period.  (I, an Episcopalian, have read more U.S. Lutheran church history than many U.S. Lutherans.)  The Anglican Church of Canada, a counterpart of The Church of England, a state church, has no official commemoration of Canada Day on its liturgical calendar, but The Book of Alternative Services (1985) contains prayers for the nation, the sovereign, the royal family, and the Commonwealth.  (God save the Queen!)  The Episcopal Church, another counterpart of The Church of England, has an ecclesiastical commemoration for Independence Day, but that feast (except for an attempt to add it in 1786) dates to 1928.

My context is the United States of America, a country in which all of us are either immigrants or descendants of immigrants.  Even the indigenous peoples descend from immigrants.  My context is the United States of America, a country in which xenophobia and nativism have a long and inglorious legacy, and constitute elements of current events.  My country is one dissidents from the British Empire founded yet in which, in current, increasingly mainstream political discourse, or what passes for political discourse, dissent is allegedly disloyal and treasonous.  My country is one with a glorious constitution that builds dissent into the electoral system, but a country in which, in July 2018 (as I write this post), support for those who espouse authoritarian ideas and tactics is growing stronger.  my country is one founded on noble ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence (1776), but one in which denying inalienable rights to one portion or another of the population is a tradition (often wrapped sacrilegiously in the cloak of the moral and the sacred) older than the republic.

Patriotism entails recognizing both the good and the bad.  It involves affirming the positive and seeking to correct the negative.  I am blessed to be a citizen of the United States of America.  The reality of my birth here provides me with advantages many people in much of the rest of the world lack.  My patriotism excludes the false idea of American Exceptionalism and embraces globalism.  My knowledge of the past tells me that we in the United States have never been cut off from the world, for events and trade patterns in the rest of the world have always affected us.  My patriotism, rooted in idealism (including anti-colonialism), seeks no form of empire or hegemony, but rather warm, respectful relations with democratic, pluralistic allies and insistence on essential points, such as human rights.  My patriotism eschews the false, self-justifying mockery of patriotism that Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) correctly labeled as

the last refuge of a scoundrel.

(Johnson, that moralist, word expert, and curmudgeon, has never ceased to be relevant.)  Some of those who are officially enemies of the state are actually staunch patriots.  To quote Voltaire (1694-1778),

It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.

I seek, however, to avoid becoming too temporally bound in this post.  For occasional temporally specific critiques, consult my political statements at SUNDRY THOUGHTS, my original weblog, from which I spun off this weblog.

As much as I love my country, I do not worship it or wrap the Stars and Stripes around a cross.  No, God is bigger than that.  A U.S. flag properly has no place in a church; I support the separation of church and state as being in the best interests of the church.  The church should retain its prophetic (in the highest sense of that word) power to confront civil authority when necessary and to affirm justice when it is present.  No person should assume that God is on the side of his or her country, but all should hope that the country is more on God’s side than not.

Finally, all nations and states will pass away, as many have done.  Yet God will remain forever.  As St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) taught, that which is temporary (even if long-lasting from human perspective) can be worthy of love, but only so much.  To give too much love to that which is temporary is to commit idolatry.  And, in Augustinian theology, what is sin but disordered love?  So yes, may we love our countries with the highest variety of patriotism, but may we love God more, for God is forever.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 23, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BRIDGET OF SWEDEN, FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF THE MOST HOLY SAVIOR; AND HER DAUGHTER, SAINT CATHERINE OF SWEDEN, SUPERIOR OF THE ORDER OF THE MOST HOLY SAVIOR

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE TEAGUE CASE, PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS EDUCATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PHILIP EVANS AND JOHN LLOYD, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF THEODOR LILEY CLEMENS, ENGLISH MORAVIAN MINISTER, MISSIONARY, AND COMPOSER

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us,

and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn:

Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 10:17-21

Psalm 145 or 145:1-9

Hebrews 11:8-16

Matthew 5:43-48

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 453

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lord of all the worlds, guide this nation by your Spirit to go forward in justice and freedom.

Give to all our people the blessings of well-being and harmony,

but above all things give us faith in you, that our nation may bring to your name and blessings to all peoples,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Jeremiah 29:4-14

Psalm 20

Romans 13:1-10

Mark 12:13-17

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 63

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Almighty God, you rule all the peoples of the earth.

Inspire the minds of all women and men to whom you have committed

the responsibility of government and leadership in the nations of the world.

Give to them the vision of truth and justice,

that by their counsel all nations and peoples may work together.

Give to the people of our country zeal for justice and strength of forbearance,

that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will.

Forgive our shortcomings as a nation; purify our hearts to see and love the truth.

We pray all these things through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

–Andy Langford in The United Methodist Book of Worship (1992)

Deuteronomy 10:12-13, 17-21

Psalm 72

Galatians 5:13-26

John 8:31-36

The United Methodist Book of Worship (1992)

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Almighty God, you have given us this good land as our heritage.

Make us always remember your generosity and constantly do your will.

Bless our land with honest industry, sound learning, and an honorable way of life.

Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way.

Make us who come many nations with many different languages a united people.

Defend our liberties and give those whom we have entrusted

with the authority of government the spirit of wisdom,

that there might be justice and peace in the land.

When times are prosperous, let our hearts be thankful,

and, in troubled times, do not let our trust in you fail.

We ask all this through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Book of Common Worship (1993), 816

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/07/23/devotion-for-independence-day-u-s-a-july-4/

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++