Archive for the ‘Romans 7’ Category

Perplexing Readings   1 comment

Above:  The Parable of the Unjust Steward, by Jan Luyken

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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1 Samuel 15:1-23 or Jeremiah 31:27-34

Psalm 109:1-5, 21-27, 30-31

Romans 11:1-21

Luke 16:1-15

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We have some perplexing readings this Sunday.  Seldom does a lectionary load a Sunday with difficult lessons.

  1. The attack on the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15 was to avenge an Amalekite attack on Israelites centuries prior, in Exodus 17:8-16.
  2. According to Deuteronomy 20:16-18 and 25:17-19, King Saul and his forces, engaged in a holy war (Is there such a thing?), should have killed all enemies, taken no prisoners, and taken no booty.  They took booty and spared the life of King Agag, though.  This, according to 1 Samuel 15, led to God’s final rejection of Saul, who had blamed others for his violation of the law.  (Are not glad that leaders everywhere no longer deflect blame for their errors?  That is a sarcastic question, of course.)
  3. The tone in Psalm 109 is relentlessly unforgiving.
  4. We read in Romans 11:1-21 that Gentile believers are, by the mercy of God, a branch grafted onto the Jewish tree.  Yet the Gentile branch is not exempt from the judgment of God.  The Gentile branch also has a long and shameful record of anti-Semitism.
  5. The Parable of the Unjust Steward/Corrupt Manager is a challenging text.  The titular character is not a role model, after all.  Yet he is intelligent and able to secure his future by committing favors he can call in when he needs to do so.  One point is that we should be astute, but not corrupt.  Naïveté is not a spiritual virtue.
  6. Money is a tool.  It should never be an idol, although it frequently is.  Greed is one of the more common sins.

I admit my lack of comfort with 1 Samuel 15 and its background.  As Amy-Jill Levine says, people did things differently back then.

I also know well the desire for divine vindication, as well as the unwillingness to forgive.  And, when I want to forgive, I do not always know how to do so.  This reminds me of the predicament of St. Paul the Apostle in Romans 7:19-20.

Each of us is susceptible to many forms of idolatry.  Something or someone becomes an idol when one treats something of someone as an idol.  Function defines an idol.

And what about that parable?  In the context of the Gospel of Luke, one needs also to consider teachings about wealth–blessed are the poor, woe to the rich, et cetera.  The theme of reversal of fortune is germane.  Also, the order not to exalt oneself, but to be kind to those who cannot repay one (Luke 14:7-14) constitutes a counterpoint to the dishonest/corrupt/astute manager/steward.  Remember, also, that if the fictional manager/steward had been honest, he would have kept his job longer, and we would not have that parable to ponder as we scratch our heads.

Obeying the Golden Rule, being as innocent as doves, and being as wise as serpents seems like a good policy.  May we heed the law of God written on our hearts, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 27, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE WASHINGTON DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF NEW JERSEY; AND HIS SON, WILLIAM CROSWELL DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ALBANY; HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANTONY AND THEODOSIUS OF KIEV, FOUNDERS OF RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MONASTICISM; SAINT BARLAAM OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT; AND SAINT STEPHEN OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, POET AND RELIGIOUS WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS REMACLUS OF MAASTRICHT, THEODORE OF MAASTRICHT, LAMBERT OF MAASTRICHT, HUBERT OF MAASTRICT AND LIEGE, AND FLORIBERT OF LIEGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT LANDRADA OF MUNSTERBILSEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS; AND SAINTS OTGER OF UTRECHT, PLECHELM OF GUELDERLAND, AND WIRO, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARIES

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZITA OF TUSCANY, WORKER OF CHARITY

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2020/04/27/devotion-for-proper-23-year-c-humes/

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Abundance, Overabundance, and Scarcity   3 comments

Above:  The Parable of the Rich Fool, by Rembrandt van Rijn

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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1 Samuel 3:1-20 or Jeremiah 18:1-11

Psalm 104:1-6, 14-24

Romans 7:12-25

Luke 12:13-21

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Abundance is of God.  Scarcity is a human creation.

The society in which Jesus lived consisted mostly of poor people.  A small portion of the population controlled most of the wealth.  The middle class was very small.  The society in which Jesus lived resembled many contemporary societies in these ways.  The rich fool in the parable hoarded much more food than he needed; he should have kept what he needed for himself and shared the rest.  That was his moral obligation to the poor, according to the Law of Moses and the testimony of the Hebrew prophets.  The rich fool was not bereft of teaching of the law and the testimony of the prophets.  He chose to disregard them.

Assuming that one (1) recognizes the voice of God, and (2) understands what that voice tells one to do, obeying that voice may prove challenging, as St. Paul the Apostle knew.  Temptation is strong, after all.  The temptation to trust in that which is tangible is hardwired into human psychology.  Human psyches frequently stand between us and our potential in God.  This overarching problem is both psychological and spiritual.  It holds back individuals and societies, to common detriment.  However, assuming that one does not recognize the voice of God or what that voice tells one to do, one is like the rich fool in the parable.  Obliviousness to God is a spiritual and societal affliction.

In Augustinian terms, sin is disordered love.  God is worthy of the most love.  People, hobbies, et cetera, are worthy of less love.  To love anyone or anything more than one ought to do is to have disordered love and to commit idolatry, to draw love away from God.  Hoarding, as in the parable, is a psychological and a spiritual ailment.

Life does not consist of the abundance of possessions, Jesus teaches us.I know hoarding when I see it, based on other people’s houses in which I have been present, as well as on some reality television programs.  I have never been a hoarder.  Nevertheless, I know the negative consequences of having collected too many possessions.  I also know the joys of downsizing.  I know the sensation of having become the possession of the inanimate objects, as well as the joys of removing many of them, revealing walls and floors.  I rejoice in seeing uncluttered surfaces and walls with a few, spaced-out pictures on them.  I understand that overabundance is antithetical to abundant life.  Overabundance leads one to serve possessions and to swear fealty to them, not to God.

Abundance is of God.  There is enough of everything for all people to have what they need.  Scarcity is a sinful, human creation.  It is the inevitable result of overabundance, rooted in idolatry.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 22, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GENE BRITTON, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF DONALD S. ARMENTROUT, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF HADEWIJCH OF BRABERT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC

THE FEAST OF KATHE KOLLWITZ, GERMAN LUTHERAN ARTIST AND PACIFIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT VITALIS OF GAZA, MONK, HERMIT, AND MARTYR, CIRCA 625

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2020/04/22/devotion-for-proper-18-year-c-humes/

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Human Weaknesses and Divine Faithfulness   1 comment

Above:  Temptations of Jesus

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Almighty God, you see that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves:

Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls,

that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body,

and from all evil thoughts which may hurt the soul;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 95

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Ezekiel 33:7-16

Psalm 18

1 John 2:1-3, 15-17

Mark 1:9-12

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A witty saying tells us,

I can resist anything except temptation.

Temptations are indeed strong and alluring, therefore, for lack of a better word, tempting.  We, although created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), are “but dust” (Psalm 103:14).  We are accountable for our sins (not those of our ancestors; read Ezekiel 18), although the sins of ancestors might affect ancestors for generations (hence Exodus 34:7).  We are far from hopeless, fortunately, for we have Christ (who knows temptation) and the Holy Spirit interceding for us (John 14:16 and 26; John 15:26).

But how will we respond to the reality of our responsibility and of divine love?  Even if we strive to accept our responsibility and to welcome divine love, we might behave badly.  We might be like St. Paul the Apostle in Romans 7, knowing what we ought to do yet being incapable of doing it.  Or we might not know precisely what we ought to do.  Principles might be plain enough, but their practical applications might prove mysterious to us.  Another problem might be the category of sins of omission, which can be more difficult to recognize than sins of commission.

Fortunately, God is faithful; we can rely on that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT:  THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON, ABOLITIONIST AND FEMINIST; AND MARIA STEWART, ABOLITIONIST, FEMINIST, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB AND DOROTHY BUXTON, FOUNDERS OF SAVE THE CHILDREN

THE FEAST OF FRANK MASON NORTH, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER

THE FEAST OF MARY CORNELIA BISHOP GATES, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED HYMN WRITER

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Psalm 119:1-32   5 comments

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POST XLVIII 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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Background Information

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This is the first of five posts on Psalm 119 in this series.  The second is here.  The third is here.  The fourth is here.  The fifth is here.

Psalm 119 is the longest entry (176 verses, to be precise) in the Book of Psalms.  The author focuses on the word of God and on the torah (literally, “teaching of the wise,” as the decisive factor in every aspect of life.  Autur Weiser, as translated by Herbert Hartwell in 1962, describes the psalm as

a many-coloured mosaic of thoughts which are often repeated in a wearisome fashion….The types of poetry, too, change without any recognizable order and reinforce the impression of restlessness produced by the whole psalm.

The Psalms:  A Commentary, page 740

In the great “Psalm of the Law” we read a postexilic exaltation of the teaching of the wise.  The torah of God is cause for rejoicing, the psalmist insists, and obeying it constitutes responding faithfully to God.  This is quite different from the old Christian stereotype of Judaism as a legalistic religion.  But, as Jesus says in John 14:15,

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The thoughts do recycle and recur in Psalm 119, so perhaps the best way to cover it in five installments per The Book of Common Prayer (1979), is to focus on one passage per post.

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Content Specific to Verses 1-32

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Would that my ways were firm

in keeping Your laws;

then I would not be ashamed

when I regard all Your commandments.

–Psalm 119:5-6, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Knowing what one should do is frequently easier than acting accordingly.  I know this reality well; I identify with St. Paul the Apostle, always a Jew, who wrote:

I discover this principle, then:  that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach.  In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive in my outmost actions a different law, fighting against the law that my mind approves, and making me a prisoner under the law of sin which controls my conduct.

–Romans 7:21-23, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The remedy for St. Paul’s quandary was to rely on grace.  That was also the answer according to the author of Psalm 103, who wrote that God knows that we are but dust (verse 14).  Ultimately, despite the plethora of statements praising God’s laws, it was also the understanding of the author of Psalm 119.

That grace and guidance continue to be available, fortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 21, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN ATHELSTAN LAURIE RILEY, ANGLICAN ECUMENIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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This is post #1750 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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Divisiveness   1 comment

Above:   Rehoboam, by Hans Holbein the Younger

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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1 Kings 12:1-20

Psalm 119:57-64

Romans 7:7-13

John 7:40-44

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The Law of God is holy; both the Psalmist and St. Paul the Apostle agree to that proposition in two of the assigned readings for today.  Yet St. Paul admits that he also finds the definition of sin that the Law proves to be a temptation to sin.  This passage precedes the famous portion of scripture in which the Apostle confesses that he knows the difference between right and wrong yet often commits the latter, even though he wants to do the former.  He is divided within himself.

In 1 Kings 12 the foolishness of the newly crowned King Rehoboam leads to the division of the Kingdom of Israel.  He ends up as the King of Judah instead.  So begins the decline of the realm King Saul once led.  We know via hindsight that both kingdoms will fall and ten tribes will become lost.

We also read of division in John 7.  Is Jesus the Messiah?  Or is he a blasphemer?  His life is certainly at risk.

As David Ackerman writes in Beyond the Lectionary (2013), unity does not require unanimity.  In the Christian context Jesus is the source of unity and the Christian Church

is a group of unlike-minded people who live out their faith and practice discipleship together.

–Page 96

Yet frequently one reads and/or hears of and encounters denominations and congregations formed or divided by the quest for like-mindedness and founded by the act of schism.  Even those who seek to reject denominationalism create new denominations, although many members of officially “undenominational” bodies object to that statement.

Part of the problem of divisiveness is that it is inherently human.  We like to keep company with people similar to ourselves.  Although the variety of denominations certainly keeps many people in the Christian fold by providing options, the scandal of denominations is that they divide the body of Christ.  I belong to a denomination–a fairly liberal one, in fact.  I like attending church where nobody will call me a heretic, for I know the sting of hearing that accusation.  Nevertheless, I also understand denominational inertia and am willing to surrender certain minor points of doctrine and practice for the sake of organic unity with a denomination or denominations with which mine is quite similar.  When organic union is not yet an option or never will be, perhaps ecumenism is on the table.  But how common are these attitudes?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 18, 2017 COMMON ERA

PROPER 6:   THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINTS DELPHINUS OF BORDEAUX, AMANDUS OF BORDEAUX, SEVERINUS OF BORDEAUX, VENERIUS OF MILAN, AND CHROMATIUS OF AQUILEIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF ADOLPHUS NELSON, SWEDISH-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF ANSON DODGE, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM BINGHAM TAPPAN, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/devotion-for-proper-17-ackerman/

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

garden-of-gethsemane

Above:  The Garden of Gethsemane

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 2:10-19

Psalm 3 or 134

Matthew 26:36-56 or Mark 14:32-52 or Luke 22:39-53 or John 18:1-12

Romans 7:1-14

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The reality of the Temple at the time of Jesus was a far cry from the prediction of what the Temple would become, according to Haggai 2:10-19.  The Second Temple, which Herod the Great had ordered expanded, had become the seat of collaboration with the Romans.  Many Jews attended events at the Temple faithfully, but they did so under the watchful gazes of Roman soldiers at the fortress next door.  In this context the annual commemoration of the Passover–of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt–occurred.

The law of God is good, but abuses of it are bad.  Among these abuses was the crucifixion of Jesus, the judicial killing of a scapegoat.  That event is still in the future–albeit the near future–in the assigned readings from the Gospels.  Nevertheless, this is not too early to notice the contrast between the forgiving attitude of Jesus and the vengeful author of Psalm 3.  Forgiveness is, of course, the best policy.

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-23-year-d/

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Repentance, Part III   1 comment

Manasseh

Above:  King Manasseh

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus,

you are the city that shelters us, the mother who comforts us.

With your Spirit accompany us on our life’s journey,

that we may spread your peace in all the world,

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 41

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Kings 21:1-15

Psalm 66:1-9

Romans 7:14-25

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Acclaim God, all the earth,

sing psalms to the glory of his name,

glorify him with your praises,

say to God, “How awesome you are!”

–Psalm 66:1-3a, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The reading from Romans 7 is among the most famous portions of Pauline literature.  St. Paul the Apostle notes that, although he knows right from wrong, he frequently does that which he knows he ought not to do.  He admits his spiritual weakness, one with which I identify.  Yes, I resemble that remark, as an old saying goes.

One wonders if King Manasseh of Judah (reigned 698/687-642) knew that conflict.  The depiction of him in 2 Kings 21 is wholely negative , mentioning his idolatry and bloodshed.  One verse after the end of the lection we read:

Moreover, Manasseh put so many innocent person to death that he filled Jerusalem [with blood] from end to end–besides the sin he committed in causing Judah to do what was pleasing to the LORD.

–2 Kings 21:16, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Yet, when one turns to 2 Chronicles 33:1-20, one reads that, while a captive in Assyria, Manasseh came to his senses and repented, that God heard his plea, and that the monarch, back in Jerusalem, reversed course regarding his previous idolatry–in the spirit of the designated psalm of this day.  The apocryphal Prayer of Manasseh, a masterpiece of penitential writing, is among the canticles for use in Morning Prayer in The Book of Common Prayer (1979).

Was the Chronicler making Manasseh, a member of the Davidic Dynasty, seem better than he was?  If so, it would not be the first time that author told a story in such a way as to flatter the dynasty.  (1 Chronicles 11 omits the civil war between the forces of David and those of Ish-bosheth.  One can read of that conflict in 2 Samuel 2-4.)  Yet, if we accept that Manasseh repented, we have an example of the fact that there is hope for even the worst people to change their ways, if only they will.  That is a valuable lesson to learn or which to remind oneself.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 9, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT SOPHRONIUS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCH

THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY OF NYSSA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF MARY ANN THOMSON, EPISCOPAL HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ROBERT HALL BAYNES, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF MADAGASCAR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/devotion-for-thursday-before-proper-9-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Our Mission from God   1 comment

Christ Pantocrator Icon

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord God, you have caused the holy scriptures

to be written for the nourishment of your people.

Grant that we may hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that, comforted by your promises,

we may embrace and forever hold fast to the hope of eternal life,

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 23

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 61:1-7

Psalm 19

Romans 7:1-6

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The law of the LORD is perfect; it restores vitality,

the commandments of the LORD are reliable;

they provide wisdom for those who need it.

–Psalm 19:8, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989), by Harry Mowvley

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That is true.  Yet what are we readers supposed to do with Romans 7:1-6?

I found the Commentary on Romans (Swedish, 1944; English, 1949) by Swedish Lutheran Bishop Anders Nygren helpful in considering that question.  Nygren’s Commentary has proven to be influential and durable, for other published exegetes have quoted and/or referred to it.  So why not cut out the middle man and go directly to Nygren?

Nygren argued that, according to St. Paul the Apostle, the Law (Torah) never dies.  It has not expired or run its course, and Christ has neither superceded, negated, nor repealed it:

The law does not die.  There is only one way to liberation.  Only in the fact that the Christian has died with Christ is he really and truly set free beyond the realm of the law.  Paul’s emphasis lies on this genuine liberation.

–Page 272

On page 268 Nygren presents in two columns the parallels between Romans 6 and 7:1-6.  In Chapter 6 Christians die to sin so that they might walk in newness of life, in freedom from sin.  When we turn to Chapter 7, we read of dying to the law for the purpose of serving in the new life of the Spirit, in freedom from the law.

This liberation has come through the death of Christ, and through the fact that by baptism we have become sharers in His death.

–Page 269

As a note in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003) stated well,

The point Paul desires to make is that death ends obligations; the law has lost its claim over Christians, who have transferred their allegiance to Christ.

–Page 2019

The theme of liberation via God to live righteously in the joy of God applies also to Isaiah 61:1-7.  The speaker in that text is most likely the author of the last few chapters of the Book of Isaiah.  The notes in The Jewish Study Bible–Second Edition (2014) identify him as Deutero-Isaiah.  I think that Trito-Isaiah is the accurate label, but that is a minor issue.  The prophet speaks of his mandate from God

To bind up the wounded of heart,

To proclaim release to the captives,

Liberation to the imprisoned;

To proclaim a year of the LORD’s favor

And a day of vindication by our God;

To comfort all who mourn….

–Isaiah 61:1b-2, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The historical context of this pericope is the return of the Hebrew exiles to their ancestral homeland.  Decades of captivity had understandably caused much despondency and prompted much derision, hence the necessity of the prophet’s mission.

In a broader sense, is not the prophet’s mission that of all who have known the love of God?  Grace is free yet definitely not cheap; it requires a positive, faithful response.  The wounded of heart and those who mourn are always around us.  Captives and prisoners (both literal and metaphorical) are numerous also.  The mission of Trito-Isaiah is mine as well as yours, O reader.  Jesus claimed it as part of his mission in Luke 4:16-19.  If he claimed it for himself, should not we who follow him?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 3, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE EVE OF THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI:  PROPER FOR THE GOODNESS OF CREATION

THE FEAST OF THEODOR FLIEDNER, PIONEER OF THE DEACONESS MOVEMENT IN THE LUTHERAN CHURCH

THE FEAST OF GEORGE KENNEDY ALLEN BELL, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF CHICHESTER

THE FEAST OF JOHN RALEIGH MOTT, ECUMENICAL PIONEER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/devotion-for-thursday-before-the-third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Righteousness from God   1 comment

Swords Into Plowshares

Above:  Swords into Plowshares

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

God of heaven and earth,

before the foundation of the universe and the beginning of time

you are the triune God:

Author of creation, eternal Word of creation, life-giving Spirit of wisdom.

Guide us to all truth by your Spirit,

that we may proclaim all that Christ has revealed

and rejoice in the glory he shares with us.

Glory and praise to you,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 1:1-4, 16-20 (Thursday)

Isaiah 2:1-5 (Friday)

Psalm 29 (Both Days)

Romans 8:1-8 (Thursday)

Romans 8:9-11 (Friday)

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The LORD shall give strength to his people;

the LORD shall give his people the blessing of peace.

–Psalm 29:11, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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St. Paul the Apostle, at the end of Romans 7, lamented that, although he often knew right from wrong and wanted to act properly, he behaved sinfully much of the time.  He lived in a “body of death,” he wrote, and his deliverance from it came via Jesus Christ.

The conclusion that we humans are slaves to the law of God in our minds yet slaves to the law of sin in our flesh precedes the “therefore” clause in Romans 8:1:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Christ,  St. Paul the Apostle wrote, has freed us from the law of sin and death.  Yes, there remains the dichotomy of the Spirit (God) and the flesh (all that pertains to human beings).  Yes, we are all “in the flesh,” during this life, but we need not live “according to the flesh,” which sin has compromised.  Righteousness comes from God.

We, turning to the Isaiah pericopes, find human disobedience, a divine call for obedience and social justice, a reminder of how much better the situation can become, a statement of how bad it can become, and a vision of what the future will entail when the Kingdom of God has become fully realized on Earth.  In Isaiah, as in Romans, righteousness comes from God and we mere mortals fall far short of that divine standard.

None of this negates the importance of free will, for the desire to obey God and act justly matters greatly.  It is a positive development and something with which God can work–multiply like loaves and fishes.  A faithful response to God is, in itself, inadequate, but it is something, at least.  And we rely on God’s strength, not ours.  Martin Luther, who knew much firsthand about the conflict between the higher and lower natures, affirmed correctly the principle of relying on the faithfulness of God.  I am content  to do as he advised in that matter, for the alternatives lead me to negative spiritual destinations, which range from hopelessness to a lack of any spirituality to the vain and frustrating quest for moral perfection or something approximate to it in this life (hence my strong objections to Pietism).

We are all broken and in need of God, so why pretend to the contrary?  A healthy spiritual quest begins where one is.  I prefer to acknowledge that point of origin without excuses, delusions, or self-recrimination.  Acknowledging one’s sin and confessing it need not turn into spiritual self-flagellation.  I have learned that admitting the reality of my spiritual state, with all its negatives and positive aspects, refraining from berating myself yet handing the burdens over to God instead is a good way to begin.  This life is short, anyway, so I seek to spend as much of it as possible enjoying and glorifying God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 14, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATHILDA, QUEEN OF GERMANY

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/14/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-trinity-sunday-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Light in the Darkness, Part III   2 comments

Candle Flame

Above:  Candle Flame

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

You are great, O God, and greatly to be praised.

You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

Grant that we may believe in you, call upon you, know you, and serve you,

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 41

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The Assigned Readings:

Zechariah 1:1-6 (Thursday)

Zechariah 2:6-13 (Friday)

Psalm 145:8-14 (Both Days)

Romans 7:1-6 (Thursday)

Romans 7:7-20 (Friday)

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All your works praise you, O LORD,

and your faithful servants bless you.

They make known the glory of your kingdom

and speak of your power;

That the peoples may know of your power

and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

–Psalm 145:10-12, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The readings from First Zechariah encourage societal repentance.  The remnant of the Hebrews consisted of descendants of members of a society which had rebelled against God–to the extent of engaging in ritual child sacrifice–and paid terribly for its actions.  The repentance to which God called the Hebrews was not for their sake alone.  No, they were to become a light to the nations; that was their calling.

Each of us, likewise, has a vocation to function as an instrument of God in the midst of those around us at any given moment.  This point brings me to Romans 7.  The law, St. Paul the Apostle reminds us, provides labels for and convicts us of our sins.  We ought to do better, but we cannot succeed on our own power.  As the best part of the chapter, which our lections omit, tells us:

I discover this principle, then:  that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach.  In my inmost self, I delight in the law of God, but I perceive in my outward actions a different law that my mind that my mind approves, and making me a prisoner under the law of sin which controls my conduct.  Wretched creature that I am, who is there to rescue me from this state of death?  Who but God?  Thanks be to him through Jesus Christ our Lord!  To sum up then:  left to myself I serve God’s law with my mind, but with my unspiritual nature I serve the law of sin.

–Romans 7:21-25, The Revised English Bible (1989)

And, since society is just people, this principle applies on the societal level also.  As A Brief Statement of Belief (1962) of the former Presbyterian Church in the United States (1861-1983), the old “Southern Presbyterian Church,” summarizes total depravity so well, with a Neo-Orthodox twist:

Sin permeates and corrupts our entire being and burdens us more and more with fear, hostility, guilt, and misery.  Sin operates not only within individuals but also within society as a deceptive and oppressive power so that even men of good will are unconsciously and unwillingly involved in the sins of society.  Man cannot destroy the tyranny of sin in himself or in his world; his only hope is to be delivered from it by God.

The Confession of Faith of The Presbyterian Church in the United States (Richmond, VA:  Board of Christian Education, 1973), page 332

That quote summarizes many social problems past and present well, does it not?

As for me, I read St. Paul’s words about not doing what he wants to do and doing what he does not want to do and identify with them.  I have, for example, known that God has called me to forgive certain people.  I have wanted to obey that command, but I have been unable to do so on my own power.  I have, in fact, been of two minds on the subject.  But at least I have wanted to obey God; that has been a fine start.  And God has empowered me to do the rest.  So thanks to God, I have found the freedom of forgiveness, which only one who has struggled to forgive can know.

Our duty is to respond favorably to God, who will empower us to do the rest.  Our free will, by which we can say “yes” to God is itself evidence of grace, so we live in the midst of divine graciousness.  May we therefore say with the author of Psalm 145:

The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

–Verse 8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

Then may we endeavor to act graciously, compassionately, and kindly, becoming be grace beacons of the light of God, seeking to change unjust social and political structures (in which many of us are unwittingly complicit) and inspiring others to do the same.  Hebrew prophets would certainly approve.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 2, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARGARET E. SANGSTER, HYMN WRITER, NOVELIST, AND DEVOTIONAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF LYONS (A.K.A. SAINT BLANDINA AND HER COMPANIONS)

THE FEAST OF REINHOLD NIEBUHR, UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN OF SWEDEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY, BISHOP, AND MARTYR

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-proper-9-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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