Archive for the ‘United Methodist Church–South Georgia Conference’ Category

A Question of Balance   Leave a comment

Above:  Balance Scale

Photographer = Andreas Praefcke

Image in the Public Domain

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[Jesus] called the people to him and said, “Listen, and understand.  What goes into the mouth does not make anyone unclean; it is what comes out of the mouth that makes someone unclean.”

–Matthew 15:10-11, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

I remember a single-cell cartoon depicting a man standing before St. Simon Peter at the Pearly Gates.  The caption reads,

No, that is not a sin either.  You must have worried yourself to death.

Recently I have renewed my interest in Scandinavian-American Lutheran history.  I have therefore been reading in that field.  These volumes have covered topics including Pietism, complete with its condemnation of indulging appetites and engaging in “worldly amusements,” such as dancing, drinking tea, playing cards, playing chess, attending plays, attending fairs and circuses, and reading works of fiction.  I have remembered an old joke:

Q:  Why don’t fundamentalists have sex standing up?

A:  It might lead to dancing.

Pietism and Puritanism are two unfortunate -isms that overlap with regard to denunciations of “worldly amusements.”  Pietism, which originated within Lutheranism then spread beyond it, dates to the 1600s, as a reaction against excessively abstract theology in preaching.  Pietism rejects the definition of the church as the assembly of hose called by both word and sacraments and redefines the church as the gathering of the spiritually reborn.  Pietism also de-emphasizes doctrine and stresses deeds–many of them laudible acts of charity and general decency and honest piety.  Unfortunately, Pietism also bends toward legalism and de-emphasizes the sacraments and rituals (referring scornfully to “externals”), tends toward serial contrarianism with regard to “the world,” and is Donatistic.  A Pietist contrasts deeds and doctrines.  I rebut that deeds reveal doctrines.  As we think, so we are.  That which we are inside cannot help but be evident outside.

I affirm the following statements:

  1. What we do matters.
  2. What we do not do matters.
  3. What we believe (give intellectual assent to) matters.
  4. None of the above can save any of us from the consequences of our sins.
  5. Faithful response to God is vital.
  6. Legalism is spiritually detrimental.
  7. Salvation is a gift.  It is free, not cheap.

The allegation of works-based righteousness is a cudgel many Protestants use against Roman Catholicism.  This reality indicates a misapprehension of Roman Catholic theology.  Yes, many Roman Catholics have a sense of works-based righteousness, but so do many Protestants.  I, who grew up a United Methodist in the South Georgia Conference, recall some children’s sermons delivered by laypeople whose theology included works-based righteousness.  I know well that the doctrinal standards of that denomination reject works-based righteousness.  For many Protestants of various theological categories affirming orthodoxy becomes a means of salvation.  Salvation from damnation therefore becomes a matter of knowledge.  This is an error–a sort of Gnosticism, to be precise.  Furthermore, an obsession with personal peccadilloes becomes an excuse for giving short shrift to or ignoring collective responsibility for societal and social ills.  So yes, one might cheat one’s employees and oppose policies that would penalize one for doing so and prevent one from doing so, but one rarely uses profanity and never cheats on one’s spouse.  The Bible says more about the exploitation of people than about sexual activities, however, so such a one needs to rethink one’s priorities.  Anyhow, even the most moral life, measured by kindness, cannot save one from damnation.

In both Judaism and Christianity the law of love is paramount.  So, O reader, leave the world better than you found it.  God will save it, but your faithful response is to act positively.  Also, go ahead and enjoy your life.  Enjoy a good dance, if you wish.  Watch movies, from harmless popcorn flicks to profound art films.  (Italian Neorealism has enriched my life recently.)  Why not relish a well-written novel or short story?  Lose yourself in a symphony or other work of great music.

Finally, brothers, let your minds be filled with everything that is true, everything that is honourable, everything that is upright and pure, everything that we love and admire–and whatever is good and praiseworthy.

–Philippians 4:8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

The “worldly” in “worldly amusements” is not necessarily negative.  Yes, one should avoid much that one can find to amuse oneself, but many of the options are laudable.  Playing chess is beneficial for one’s mind.  Antioxidents in tea are good for us.  Idle hands are not necessarily the Devil’s workshop, for we need to rest and play as well as work.  God has given us life;  may we enjoy it and thank God frequently.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 9, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF KARL BARTH, SWISS REFORMED MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR; FATHER OF MARKUS BARTH, SWISS LUTHERAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF GEORG FRIEDRICH HELLSTROM, DUTCH-GERMAN MORAVIAN MUSICIAN, COMPOWER, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER FOURIER, “THE GOOD PRIEST OF MATTAINCOURT;” AND SAINT ALIX LE CLERC, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF NOTRE DAME OF CANONESSES REGULAR OF SAINT AUGUSTINE

THE FEAST OF SAINT WALTER CISZEK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIEST AND POLITICAL PRISONER

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Psalm 119:145-176   5 comments

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

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Let me live, that I may praise You;

may Your rules be my help.

–Psalm 119:175, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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Interestingly, in verse 175 the psalmist does not pray,

may You be my help

or

You are my help.

No, the author of Psalm 119 emphasizes the rules, which he describes as worthy of learning (verse 7), delightful (verse 16), his intimate companions (verse 24), just and eternal (verse 160), et cetera.  Also, love of the torah replaces love of God in the psalm.  This use of torah is mystical; God’s words have saving power.  Yet the psalmist also seeks divine deliverance throughout the text, as in verse 176:

I have strayed like a  lost sheep;

search for Your servant,

for I have not neglected Your commandments.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

A note in The Jewish Study Bible suggests that I contrast 119:176 with Psalm 44:18:

All this has come upon us,

yet we have not forgotten You,

or been false to Your covenant.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Note, O reader, what the psalmists have not forgotten or neglected:  “You” (God), in the case of Psalm 44, and “Your commandments,” in the case of Psalm 119.

All of his is fascinating reading for me, an Episcopalian who grew up as a United Methodist.  The sentiment of Psalm 44:18 (“we have not forgotten You”) comes naturally to me.  However, the attachment to the rules in Psalm 119 does not.  Nevertheless, the legal emphasis of Psalm 119 makes sense in its postexilic setting, given the teaching that neglecting those commandments had led to two exiles and the lost of ten tribes.

As for the straying of the psalmist in 119:176, how has he strayed, if indeed he has not neglected divine commandments?  The text does not explain.  Somehow he finds himself lost, or more precise, perishing.  Those enemies to whom he has been referring remain.  The psalmist acknowledges that he and all faithful people find their deliverance via grace, not the keeping of the rules.

St. Paul the Apostle agreed.

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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Humility, Community, and Christian Liberty   1 comment

Above:   The Parsonage of Vidette United Methodist Church, Vidette, Georgia, 1980-1982

Photograph by John Dodson Taylor, III

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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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Jeremiah 28:1-4, 10-17

Psalm 119:65-72

Romans 14:13-23

John 7:45-52

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The difference between a true prophet and a false one becomes evident after he or she has prophesied.  For example, if he or she states that X will happen and the opposite of X happens, he or she is a false prophet.  That is the standard Jeremiah cites in Jeremiah 28 with regard to Hananiah.  Jeremiah, however, does not judge Hananiah; God does that.

The theme of humility unites the assigned readings for this day.  Jeremiah is sufficiently humble to leave judgment to God.  The Psalmist is humble before God.  Certain Pharisees–Nicodemus excepted–manifest a lack of humility toward Jesus and the possibility of him being the Messiah and of God.  St. Paul the Apostle urges humility toward each other.

I recall that, in June 1980-June 1982, when my father was the pastor of the Vidette United Methodist Church, Vidette, Georgia, I was not to play in the yard on Sunday afternoons because, as my father said, someone might get the wrong idea.  That was ridiculous, of course.  God gave us the Sabbath as a blessing, not as a time to ponder dourly what we ought not to do.  Besides, anyone who would have taken offense at me getting exercise and fresh air in the yard on Sunday afternoons should have removed the pole from his or her rectum.  Doing so would have made siting down more comfortable for such a person.

If we permit others to prevent us from doing too much for the sake of avoiding causing offense, we will do little or nothing.  Then what good will we be?  Nevertheless, I understand the principle that we, living in community as we do, are responsible to and for each other.  We ought to live with some respect for certain responsibilities without losing the proper balance between self-restraint and Christian liberty.  Busy bodies should attend to their own business.

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-18-ackerman/

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Vindication   1 comment

Above:   Judah and Tamar, by the School of Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

Vindication

JUNE 17, 2018

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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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Genesis 38:1-26

Psalm 35:19-25

Acts 5:1-11

Matthew 12:43-45

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In June 1996 my father became the pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in rural Appling County, Georgia, U.S.A.  One of the adult Sunday School classes was reading and discussing the Book of Genesis at the rate of a chapter per week.  I recall that, on the Sunday morning after they had read and discussed Chapter 37, the teacher skipped directly to Chapter 39.

Genesis 38 is a hot potato.  What are we to make of a story that approves of a childless widow pretending to be a pagan temple prostitute, seducing her father-in-law, and becoming pregnant with twins, his children?  Judah (the father-in-law) understands the deception by Tamar (the widow) as justified, per the rules governing levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).  As Professor Amy-Jill Levine says, we must accept that people did things differently then.

The author of Psalm 35 prays for divine vindication against enemies.  Perhaps that mindset informs the treatment of the selfish people (struck dead by God) in Acts 5.  The sense of grievance certainly informs Matthew 12:43-45, which literally demonizes Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus.  One can reasonably imagine members of a marginalized Jewish Christian community demonizing the non-Christian Jews circa 85 C.E.

The desire for divine vindication can be legitimate.  Yet may we who seek vindication never surrender to hatred and thereby become as those who seek to harm us or otherwise deny us that which is rightfully ours.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 15, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN ELLERTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF CARL HEINRICH VON BOGATSKY, HUNGARIAN-GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LANDELINUS OF VAUX, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AUBERT OF CAMBRAI, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; URSMAR OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND MISSIONARY BISHOP; AND DOMITIAN, HADELIN, AND DODO OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2017/06/15/devotion-for-proper-6-ackerman/

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Reflections on the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of My Confirmation   Leave a comment

bulletin-december-22-1991

Above:  Cover of the Bulletin, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Tifton, Georgia, December 22, 1991

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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On the morning of December 22, 1991, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, I became an Episcopalian.  The Right Reverend Harry Woolston Shipps (who died recently), then the Bishop of Georgia, confirmed me.  Officially I retained membership in The United Methodist Church until the following Autumn, on the occasion of the 1992 Charge Conference of the Sumner Charge (four congregations at the time).  Indeed, I remained substantially a Methodist for a long time, but I had begun to think of myself as an Episcopalian prior to my confirmation at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Tifton, Georgia.

I have become convinced that I was supposed to become an Episcopalian, for the affiliation is a natural fit for me.  I am, after all, somewhat Roman Catholic while retaining many Protestant influences. Ritual appeals to me strongly also.  Furthermore, The Episcopal Church grants me a wide berth to respect certain traditions, break with other traditions, bring my intellect to bear on my spiritual life, disagree peaceably with many people, and be an introvert without feeling out-of-place.  Evangelicalism, as I have experienced it, is relentlessly extroverted.  That is not an inherently negative characteristic, but the manner in which many extroverts fail to respect the value of introversion and therefore marginalize introverts is unfortunate.  Indeed, personality typing helps to explain why certain denominations and styles of prayer are preferable to some people but not others.  That which feeds one person starves another.

I have never looked back from my choice to become an Episcopalian.  As I have become more liberal in some ways, more conservative in others, and incorporated Lutheran theology into my thought, I have become a different type of Episcopalian than I was in 1991.  My faith life is a work in progress; I wonder how it will proceed as I continue from day to day.  The Episcopalian way of being simply makes sense to me.  Since I moved to Athens, Georgia, in August 2005, I have dwelt spiritually primarily at St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia.  I have also frequented two university chaplaincies (Episcopalian and Presbyterian U.S.A.), attended services at First Presbyterian Church and Holy Cross Lutheran Church, engaged in community volunteering at one Presbyterian U.S.A. and two United Methodist congregations, participated in a performance of the first part off Handel’s Messiah at Oconee Presbyterian Church (Watkinsville), and attended community functions at four other churches (Disciples of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, Assemblies of God, and non-denominational Charismatic) in the area.  Furthermore, I have attended a diocesan gathering at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, without ever entering a worship space there.  The fact that I seldom want to attend services in another denomination demonstrates the fact that I have found my niche.  Why should I seek another place?  Nevertheless, I am agreeable to ecumenical engagements.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 22, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-SIXTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK AND WILLIAM TEMPLE, ARCHBISHOPS OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS CHAEREMON AND ISCHYRION, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF HENRY BUDD, FIRST ANGLICAN NATIVE PRIEST IN NORTH AMERICA; MISSIONARY TO THE CREE NATION

THE FEAST OF JAMES PRINCE LEE, BISHOP OF MANCHESTER

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Life Does Not Consist of the Abundance of Possessions   Leave a comment

Parable of the rich man *oil on panel *31.9 x 42.5 cm *signed b.l.: RH. 1627.

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

Image in the Public Domain

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Luke 12:13-21 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition, 2002):

One of the multitude said to him [Jesus],

Teacher, bid my brother divide my inheritance with me.

But he [Jesus] said to him,

Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?

And he [Jesus] said to them,

Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist of his possessions.

And he [Jesus] told them a parable, saying,

The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops.?”  And he said, “I will do this; I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.'”  But God said to him, “Fool!  This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”  So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

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Luke 6:20, 21, 24, 25a (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition, 2002):

And he [Jesus] lifted up his eyes on his disciples and said:

Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.

But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.

Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.

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The quote from which I have taken the title of this post comes from the Parable of the Rich Fool, the entirety of which I have quoted above.  The Rich Fool has more than enough food at the same time that many people in his vicinity lack a sufficient supply thereof.  He could keep enough food to meet his own needs and share the rest with the hungry, but he chooses not to do that.  He trusts in material possessions, not God.  His wealth is his security blanket; his abundance shelters him psychologically from the prospect of hunger and poverty.  In the end he dies (as we all will do) and cannot take anything with him.

Life does not consist of the abundance of possessions.  One way to learn this lesson is to move.  Having to pack up one’s belongings, transport them, and unpack them can teach one how much one has and how inconvenient (even detrimental to one’s quality of life) too many of them can be.  I have moved often during my life, going back to my childhood; my father was a minister in the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church.  I recall moving every two or three years (on average) and realizing that I moved with more possessions each time.  I also recall that, as I prepared to leave East Dublin, Georgia, for Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, in 2005, I donated many possessions to a thrift store and felt proud of myself for doing that.  Furthermore, I recall that, after I arrived in Athens-Clarke County, I wondered why I had not been more generous to that thrift store.

I have reduced my appetites for material possessions and become fonder of open space in recent years.  The largest category of my possessions is and has long been books.  I have come by this naturally, given the bookishness of my family.  I reduced my library from its height at more than 2500 volumes to about 1000 books a few years ago.  Then, over time, I added to the library before reducing it to about 1000 volumes again a few months ago.  Those nearly 1000 books fill seven tall book cases and a smaller one.  I have concluded that approximately 1000 volumes is the proper size of my library.  Given the size of my living space, having space for a sofa is more important to me than keeping more books.  Living in a relatively small space does help to provide one with a useful sense of discipline in these matters.

I have been inside the home of a hoarder, a woman with a mental illness.  (She has an emotional attachment to her trash.)  Her disorder has placed her health and that of her son at risk and detracted from the quality of their lives.  Certainly, to be able to walk easily in every room of the house and sleep on more than one side of one’s bed (because of the possessions occupying the rest of the bed) would improve the quality of life.  I avoid that house, for the messiness annoys me and something in the air makes me feel ill.

Life certainly does not consist of clutter.  In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), the loose basis of Blade Runner (1982), which is not as dark as its source material, Philip K. Dick has a character, J. S. Sebastian, explain a theory of clutter:  it reproduces asexually.  Sometimes clutter seems to do that, does it not?  A problem with clutter is that it is in the way.  I know of a large, two-story home in Athens-Clarke County.  The wide corridors function as storage space, as do some of the downstairs rooms.  There is no more room in the storeroom.  Much of the contents of the storeroom is inaccessible.  The resident is not a clinical hoarder, however.  She has many possessions, a physical disability, a lifelong tendency toward disorder, and a desire to clean up her home.  I help her off-and-on to rein in the problem.  There is so much to do until we make the interior of the house resemble something other than an anarchistic warehouse.   She is, however, making plans to sell some large pieces of furniture and not to replace them.  Furthermore, I have carried many items away and donated them to thrift stores on her behalf.

I look around my living space and thank God for open space and horizontal surfaces lacking clutter.

One might do well to think of clutter metaphorically also.  To simplify one’s interior life–to avoid the temptation to fill the rooms, corridors, nooks, and crannies of one’s being with activities that get in the way of a healthy spiritual life–is a virtue.  One should not be so busy that one cannot stop and listen to God.  God speaks to us, but we do not hear Him if we do not listen.  We do not stop to listen for God’s voice if we are doing something else.  We do not make room for God in our spiritual interiors if we clutter those spaces.  Many people who do not attend religious services on a regular basis report that they are too busy to do so.  Too busy for God is too busy.

The Rich Fool was not rich toward God.  He was one of those who had received his consolation (Luke 6:24) and was the subject of one of the Woes following the Beatitudes in the Gospel of Luke.  The Rich Fool was a man with misplaced priorities–toward possessions, human beings, and God.  The Rich Fool crowded out God with, for lack of a better word, stuff.  He chose poorly.

Life is in God, not the abundance of possessions.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

THE FEAST OF ALL CHRISTIAN EDUCATORS AND INTELLECTUALS

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA OF AVILA, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

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Taking Difficult Passages of Scripture Seriously   1 comment

tamar-and-judah

Above:  Tamar and Judah, by Aert de Gelder

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 38:1-30 or Ecclesiastes 5:1-20

Psalm 10

Matthew 22:23-33 or Mark 12:18-27 and Luke 20:39-40

2 Corinthians 7:2-16

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I recall that, in 1996, my father began his tenure as pastor of the Asbury United Methodist Church, north of Baxley, in Appling County, Georgia.  Shortly after this I began to attend to services at St. Thomas Aquinas Episcopal Church in town, for I had been an Episcopalian for a few years.  Nevertheless, I was never a stranger at Asbury Church during my father’s tenure there.

One of the adult Sunday School classes at Asbury was discussing the Book of Genesis at the pace of a chapter a week.  On one Sunday morning in the summer of 1996 the leader of the group, having covered Chapter 37 the previous week, skipped over Chapter 38 to Chapter 39, with little explanation.  The story of Judah, Tamar, levirate marriage (the background of the question in the readings from the Gospels), and temple prostitution was a really hot potato, so to speak.  The narrative in Genesis 38 does not criticize a young, childless widow for having sexual relations with her father-in-law at a pagan temple and becoming pregnant with twins.  In her situation she did what she needed to do to secure her future.

Deuteronomy 25:5-10 commands the practice of levirate marriage, for the benefit of a childless widow in a patriarchal society without a government-defined social safety net.  In the case of Genesis 38 the practice, applied to a particular set of circumstances, makes many modern readers of the Bible squirm in their theological seats.  This is no excuse for ignoring the chapter, of course.  Whenever a portion of scripture makes one uncomfortable, one should study it more closely and, in the highest meaning of the word, critically.

The Sadducees in the parallel readings of Matthew, Mark, and Luke did not ignore levirate marriage, but they did employ it in a question meant to entrap Jesus.  They did not affirm the resurrection of the dead.  That is why, according to a song for children,

they were sad, you see.

For the Sadducees the emphasis on this life helped to justify the accumulation of wealth in a society in which economic injustice was ubiquitous.  They, like others, failed to ensnare Jesus verbally.  He was that capable.

Koheleth, writing in Ecclesiastes, noted that economic injustice and other forms of social injustice ought not to surprise anyone.  After all, he mentioned, perpetrators of injustice protect each other.  Nevertheless, as the author of Psalm 10 understood, those who exploited the poor (in violation of the Law of Moses) could not escape divine justice.

Just as the painful letter of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthian congregation led to the changing of hearts there, the study of difficult passages of scripture can lead people to learn more about the Bible, ask vital questions, think more critically about scripture, and grow spiritually.  It can also change hearts and minds for the better.  May we who call ourselves followers of God neither ignore nor use such passages flippantly, but take them seriously instead.  Then may we act accordingly.  We might even learn that we are committing or condoning social injustice, perhaps that of the economic variety.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 11, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PHILIP THE EVANGELIST, DEACON

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/devotion-for-the-fourth-sunday-of-easter-year-d/

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