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

Troublemakers   1 comment

Judah and Tamar--School of Rembrandt van Rijn

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

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, our eternal redeemer, by the presence of your Spirit you renew and direct our hearts.

Keep always in our mind the end of all things and the day of judgment.

Inspire us for a holy life here, and bring us to the joy of the resurrection,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 25:5-10 (Thursday)

Genesis 38:1-26 (Friday)

Psalm 17 (Both Days)

Acts 22:22-23:11 (Thursday)

Acts 24:10-23 (Friday)

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Let my vindication come forth from your presence,

let your eyes be fixed on justice.

–Psalm 17:2, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Genesis 38 serves several functions.  One is to mark the passage of time between Genesis 37 and 39.  Another is to make people squirm.  What should one make of a story in which Tamar, the heroine, the wronged woman denied what was due her according to levirate marriage (described in Deuteronomy 25), had to resort to posing as a pagan temple prostitute to seduce her father-in-law to get the child(ren) she deserved, according to social customs meant to protect childless widows?  Due to problems with her first husband’s brothers the duty fell to Judah, her father-in-law.

I remember that, in 1996, at Asbury United Methodist Church, north of Baxley in Appling County, Georgia, an adult Sunday School class read the Book of Genesis at the rate of a chapter per week.  One Sunday that summer the time came to ponder Chapter 38.  The leader of the class skipped to Genesis 39, for he found the contents to be too hot a potato, so to speak.

The story of Judah and Tamar continues to make many readers of the Hebrew Bible uncomfortable.  Tamar remains a troublemaker of sorts, long after her death.  Perhaps modern readers who struggle with the tale should think less about our comfort levels and more about the lengths to which certain people need to go to secure basic needs.

St. Paul the Apostle got into legal trouble (again) in Acts 21.  The trumped-up charge boiled down to him being a troublemaker, a disturber of the peace.  As Tertullus, the attorney for chief priest Ananias and Temple elders argued before Felix, the governor:

We found this man to be a pest, a fomenter of discord among the Jews all over the world, a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.  He made an attempt to profane the temple and we arrested him.

–Acts 24:5-6, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Were not those who plotted and attempted to kill St. Paul the real troublemakers?  He planned or committed no violence toward those with whom he disagreed.  The Apostle knew how to employ strong language, but he avoided resorting to violence after his conversion.

How we deal with alleged troublemakers reveals much about our character.  What, then, does this standard reveal about your character, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LIPHARDUS OF ORLEANS AND URBICIUS OF MEUNG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF UGANDA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MORAND OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND MISSIONARY

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-proper-27-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Here I Stand   Leave a comment

January 19, 2016

Above:  One of My Crucifixes, Hanging in the Biblical Studies Section of My Library, January 19, 2016

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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For with you is the well of life,

and in your light we see light.

–Psalm 36:9, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Each of us is, to some extent, a product of his or her upbringing.  I, for example, grew up in a bookish family, a fact for which I give thanks.  One should not be surprised that I have converted my living space into a library or that I prefer to consult books for information when possible.  Such tendencies are natural for me.

I grew up as a fish out of water.  My father was a United Methodist minister in rural southern Georgia, U.S.A., in the Bible Belt.  Yet I have never been an Evangelical Christian nor wanted to become one.  In fact, I came into the world predisposed to become an intellectual, ritualistic Episcopalian, which I have been for more years than I was a Methodist.  Experiences from my youth continue to affect me positively and negatively.  I give thanks for my grounding the scriptures as I bristle at every accusation of committing heresy.  Fortunately, few of those come my way these days, for I have chosen a faith community in which I am unlikely to encounter such allegations.

I have noticed that, after my experimental theological phase in the 1990s and early 2000s, I have settled into a theological position slightly to the right of that yet definitely left of the theological center and in close proximity to that center.  I am, according to the standards of traditionalists of various types, heretical.  At the same time I am, according to postmodernists, conservative.  I remain a product of the Northern Renaissance and the Enlightenment, with the former having a greater influence than the latter.  I am closer theologically to N. T. Wright than to John Dominic Crossan.   I seek to respect the image of God in my fellow human beings, a standard which straddles the left-right divide.  I support marriage equality, shun any phobia aimed at human beings, understand the Biblical mandate for economic justice, and have a cautious attitude toward abortion, which I understand to be a medical necessity in extreme cases, in which it is the least bad decision.  In other circumstances I favor alternatives to abortion.  The most effective and ethical way to make that manifest is not always via legislation.  Furthermore, I see no conflict between sound theology and good science.  In that respect I stand in the best of Roman Catholic tradition.

I stand right of the center liturgically.  I favor, for example, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), the use of modern English in liturgies and Biblical translations, and the singing of verbose, theologically dense hymns.  Praise choruses (“seven-eleven songs,” to use a common term), screens, PowerPoint, guitars, and praise bands disturb me deeply.  Worship is worship, and entertainment is entertainment.  To use language from Marva Dawn, the church should not dumb down to reach out.

There is tradition, and there is tradition.  Some are more important and flexible than others.  The fact that a practice is a tradition or an innovation does not constitute a valid reason to embrace or reject it.  The proper standard is function.  How does a practice work?  Is it the most functional practice for a particular purpose?  Some traditions hold up better over time than others.  And, as one learns by reading the history of liturgy, ancient traditions began as innovations.

Just as tradition is not infallible, neither are scripture and reason.  My careful studies of the Bible have revealed inconsistencies, such as many doublets in the Old Testament and minor details in the four Gospels.  For example, one reads two sets of instructions regarding how many animals to take on Noah’s Ark, two stories of Saul and David falling out with other, two stories of creation, two accounts of the announcement of the birth of Isaac, et cetera.  Consider also the anointing of Jesus in the four Gospels.  Did the woman have a name, and how much do we know about her?  In whose house did this happen?  And which parts of Jesus did she anoint?  The Gospels offer differing answers to those questions.  Nevertheless, the core details of those four accounts are identical.  Biblical inconsistencies do nothing to damage my faith, for I have never expected consistency in every detail of scripture.  I emphasize the forest, not the trees.  As for reason, it is a gift from God can take one far.  One ought to make the most of the best possible uses of it.  Nevertheless, since we mere mortals are fallible, so is our reason.  The balance of scripture, tradition, and reason is a virtue.

The great infallible depository knowledge of God is God, whom we can know partially yet intimately.  Regardless of how well one knows God, there remain limits, for the nature of deity is quite different from human realities.  Most of the nature of deity exceeds the human capacity to comprehend it.

In God alone I place my trust regarding matters of salvation, which I understand to be a process, not an event.  As Martin Luther said well, we who turn to God can trust in the faithfulness of God.  I, as a Christian, affirm that the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the historical, incarnated form of the Second Person of the Trinity (whatever that means; I have learned not to try to untangle the knot of the Trinity) constituted a unique event, the breaking of God into human history as one of us.  Our Lord and Savior’s life–complete with the crucifixion and resurrection–was the means of atonement for sins.  Unfortunately, Hell remains a reality, for many people have rejected the offer of redemption and the accompanying responsibilities.

Here I stand.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 19, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SARGENT SHRIVER, U.S. STATESMAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT CAESARIUS OF ARLES, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP, AND SAINT SAINT CAESARIA OF ARLES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS

THE FEAST OF HENRY AUGUSTINE COLLINS, ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF RICHARD ROLLE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC SPIRITUAL WRITER

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Building Up Others, Part I   1 comment

Jehoiakim

Above:  Jehoiakim

Image in the Public Domain

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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:

Jeremiah 36:1-10 (Monday)

Jeremiah 36:11-26 (Tuesday)

Jeremiah 36:27-32 (Wednesday)

Psalm 119:89-96 (All Days)

1 Corinthians 14:1-12 (Monday)

2 Corinthians 7:2-12 (Tuesday)

Luke 4:38-44 (Wednesday)

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Your word endures for ever, LORD;

it stands firm in the heavens.

Your faithfulness lasts for all time;

it stands firm in the earth you founded.

Your decrees stand firm even today;

all these are your servants.

Unless your law had been a source of delight to me

I should have perished amid my afflictions,

I will never neglect your rules

for by them you have kept me alive.

I belong to you.  Save me!

For I have sought to keep your rules.

Wicked people are waiting to destroy me

but I have looked closely into your instructions.

I have seen how everything comes to an end once it is finished

but your commandment knows no bounds.

–Psalm 119:89-96, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989), by Harry Mowvley

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Proclaiming the words of God can prove to be a risky undertaking.

The prophet Jeremiah and his scribe Baruch knew this truth well.  They worked in a particular political context.  Not only was there no separation of religion and government, but the monarch, Jehoiakim (reigned 608-598 B.C.E.), was a vassal.  Neco, the Pharaoh of Egypt, had chosen him to rule as King of Judah in lieu ofJehoahaz (reigned 609 B.C.E.), another son of the great Josiah (reigned 640-609 B.C.E.).  In time Jehoiakim became a vassal of Nebuchadnezzar II (reigned 605-562 B.C.E.) of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, against whom he rebelled.  Nebuchadnezzar II was not amused.  (You, O reader, can read more at 2 Kings 23:28-24:7 and 2 Chronicles 36:1-8).  The purpose of the contents of the first scroll in Jeremiah 36 was to create an opportunity for repentance–the act of turning around or changing the mind.  King Jehoiakim and his courtiers did not repent.  No, he burned the scroll.  YHWH was not amused.  Jeremiah and Baruch found themselves in legal trouble, but YHWH hid them.  And Jeremiah dictated a second scroll to Baruch.

St. Paul the Apostle and his traveling companions also knew well the political and legal hazards of proclaiming the words of God.  In fact, the Apostle became a martyr because of that proclamation.  He also knew the risks of hurting the feelings of people who were precious to him.  As St. Paul knew, one is not responsible for the thin skins of other people.

Jesus and St. Paul understood the value of building up others and faithful community.  Sometimes acting on this principle requires moving along to another place, to engage in the work of building up others there.

I have belonged to a series of congregations, mostly during my time in the household of my father, a United Methodist minister.  I moved on psychologically, burying many memories, when I relocated physically.  Nevertheless, I recall that certain members of those rural congregations in southern Georgia, U.S.A., used their positions, whether formal or informal, to build up themselves to the detriment of faith community.  They forgot, if they ever knew, that the congregation belonged to God, not to them.  Those churches would have been healthier faith communities if those people had acted differently and others had not enabled such destructive behavior.  I have seen such behavior less frequently in Episcopal congregations I have attended, not than one denomination is more prone to this pathology than another.

What is God calling you, O reader, to do in the context of faith community?  Building it up is a general description, what are the details in your context?  And, if proclaiming the words of God faithfully puts you at risk, are you willing to proceed anyway?  Whatever your circumstances are or will become, may the love of God and the imperative of building up others, society, and faith community compel you.  And may you succeed, by grace.

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-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-the-third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Glorifying God IV   1 comment

Herod Agrippa I

Above:  Herod Agrippa I

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Generous God, your Son gave his life

that we might come to peace with you.

Give us a share of your Spirit,

and in all we do empower us to bear the name of

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 1:1-18 (Friday)

Deuteronomy 27:1-10 (Saturday)

Psalm 19:7-14 (Both Days)

Acts 12:20-25 (Friday)

Matthew 5:13-20 (Saturday)

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The law of the LORD is perfect and revives the soul;

the testimony of the LORD is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.

The statutes of the LORD are just and rejoice the heart;

the commandment of the LORD is clear and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the LORD is clean and endures for ever;

the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold,

sweeter far than honey,

than honey in the comb.

By them also is your servant enlightened,

and in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can tell how often he offends?

cleanse me from my secret faults.

Above all, keep me from presumptuous sins;

let them not get dominion over me;

then shall I be whole and sound,

and innocent of a great offense.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight,

O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.

–Psalm 19:7-14, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Herod Agrippa I (lived 10 B.C.E.-44 C.E.; reigned 37-44 C.E.) was a grandson of the notorious Herod the Great (reigned 37-4 B.C.E.) and a friend of the more notorious Caligula (reigned 37-41 C.E.).  Herod Agrippa I, a king because the Roman Empire declared him so, persecuted nascent Christianity and dissatisfied his Roman masters by allying himself with Near Eastern rulers.  He sought to glorify himself, not God, and succeeded in that goal.  Then he died suddenly.  Agrippa’s Roman masters did not mourn his passing.

The Deuteronomist placed pious words into the mouth of Moses.  The contents of those words–reminders of divine faithfulness and of human responsibility to respond favorably–remain germane.  That ethic, present in Psalm 19, contains a sense of the mystery of God, a mystery we mere mortals will never solve.  President Abraham Lincoln (never baptized, by the way) grasped that mystery well, as evident in his quoting of Psalm 19 (“the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether”) in his Second Inaugural Address (1865), near the end of the Civil War.

Glorifying God–part of the responsibility to respond favorably to God–entails being salt and light in the world.  Laying one’s ego aside and seeking to direct proper attention to God can prove to be difficult for many people, but it is part of what obedience to God requires.

I grew up in a series of United Methodist congregations in southern Georgia, U.S.A.  In those settings I learned many invaluable lessons.  Two of them were:

  1. Be wary of people with inadequate egos, and
  2. Be wary of people with raging egos.

Both types seek to use positions of power and/or authority in church to their advantage and get pastors moved needlessly.  Those with raging egos seek to glorify themselves as a matter of course, and those with weak egos seek to feel better about themselves.

However, a person with a healthy ego can seek to glorify God more comfortably psychologically than one with an unbalanced sense of self-worth.  One’s self-worth comes from bearing the image of God, so one’s sense of self-worth should derive from the same reality.  When that statement summarizes one’s spiritual reality one is on the right path, the road of glorifying God via one’s life.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 1, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PAULI MURRAY, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY AND EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE WINKWORTH, TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF HARRIET BEECHER STOWE, ABOLITIONIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN CHANDLER, ANGLICAN PRIEST, SCHOLAR, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/devotion-for-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-21-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Four Banquets   2 comments

St. Edward's, Lawrenceville

Above:  St. Edward’s Episcopal Church, Lawrenceville, Georgia, October 19, 2014

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

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The Collect:

Gracious God, you have placed within the hearts of all your children

a longing for your word and a hunger for your truth.

Grant that we may know your Son to be the true bread of heaven

and share this bread with all the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 25:6-10a

Psalm 111

Mark 6:35-44

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He has provided food for his worshippers;

he remembers his covenant for ever.

–Psalm 111:5, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)

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This is a post about four banquets:  the divine coronation feast in Isaiah 25:6-10a, the sordid feast of Herod Antipas in Mark 6:14-29, the Feeding of the 5000 (Plus) in Mark 6:30-44, and the Holy Eucharist.

The reading from Isaiah 25 speaks of a time immediately after Yahweh has defeated pride, evil, and sorrow, and established the Kingdom of God, in its fullness, on the Earth.  This is a time in our future.  All people are welcome at Yahweh’s coronation feast, to take place on Mount Zion, in Jerusalem.  All is well, except for those whom God has vanquished, namely the Moabites (25:10).

Our next two banquets, which stand is stark contrast to each other, come from Mark 6.  The first is a sordid event, with Herod Antipas lusting after the seductive Salome (whose name and image come to us via archaeology, not the Bible) and making a hasty promise which leads to the execution of St. John the Baptist.  The Herodian family tree was complicated, for both Herodias and her daughter, Salome, were granddaughters of Herod the Great via different women.  Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great via a third woman, married Herodias, who had been the wife of a half-brother of Herod Antipas.  Thus Salome was the step-daughter and a cousin of Herod Antipas.

I will not attempt to explain the Feeding the 5000 (Plus) rationally, for doing that constitutes seeking an answer to the wrong question.  (And I am more of a rationalist than a mystic.)  Neither will I try to explain Jesus walking on water (next in Mark 6) logically, for the same reason.  No, I am interested in answering the question which compelled one of my spiritual mentors whenever he studied any passage of scripture:

What is really going on here?

The Markan account of the Feeding of the 5000 men (no word about the number of women and children) uses imagery from elsewhere in the Bible.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd feeding the flock.  His feeding of the multitude exceeds Elisha’s feeding of 100 men (2 Kings 4:42-44) and Elijah’s miracle of the refilling jug of oil (1 Kings 17:8-16).  The messianic banquet, an echo of Isaiah 25:6-10a, recurs in the wilderness motif in subsequent pseudipigraphal works, such as in 2 Baruch 29:4 and 4 Ezra 6:52.  Two main ideas stand out in my mind:

  1. Jesus is greater than Elijah and Elisha (see Mark 6:15, in which some people thought that Jesus was Elijah), and
  2. Nothing we bring to Jesus is inadequate in his capable hands.  There will be leftovers after he has finished working with it.  We are insufficient by ourselves yet more than sufficient in Christ.  That is what grace can effect.

The eucharistic imagery in Mark 6 points to the fourth banquet, which I, as an Episcopalian, celebrate at least once weekly.  The Holy Eucharist has constituted the core of my spiritual life since childhood.  One reason I left the United Methodism of my youth was to have the opportunities to partake of the sacrament more often.  In the Holy Eucharist I meet Jesus in the forms of bread and wine and swear loyalty to him again.  No, I am not worthy on my merit (such as it is) to do this, but I rely on his merits to make me worthy to do so.  The first step to becoming worthy is acknowledging one’s unworthiness.

The contrast between human systems built on the foundation of violence, exploitation, and oppression on one hand and the Kingdom of God on the other hand is clear.  Injustice and artificial scarcity characterize the former, but justice and abundance for all distinguish the latter.  We can experience a foretaste of the Kingdom of God, which is partially present already, but we await the fullness of the Kingdom.  Until then we can, at least, leave the world better off than we found it.  No effort toward this goal is too little in Christ’s capable hands.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 6, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF CARTHAGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF DANIEL G. C. WU, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO CHINESE AMERICANS

THE FEAST OF FREDERIC BARKER, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF SYDNEY

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/devotion-for-wednesday-after-proper-12-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Seeking the Common Good   2 comments

31620v

Above:  Samuel Ryeschenski, Nine-Year-Old Chess Player, at the United States Capitol, April 6, 1922

Photographer = Harris & Ewing

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-hec-31620

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The Collect:

O Lord God, merciful judge, you are the inexhaustible fountain of forgiveness.

Replace our hearts of stone with hearts that love and adore you,

that we may delight in doing your will,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 47

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 48:8-22 (Monday)

Genesis 49:29-50:14 (Tuesday)

Genesis 50:22-26 (Wednesday)

Psalm 133 (All Days)

Hebrews 11:23-29 (Monday)

Romans 14:13-15:2 (Tuesday)

Mark 11:20-25 (Wednesday)

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Oh, how good and pleasant it is,

when brethren live together in unity!

It is like fine oil upon the head

that runs down upon the beard,

Upon the beard of Aaron,

and runs down upon the collar of his robe.

It is like the dew of Hermon

that falls upon the hills of Zion.

For there the LORD has ordained the blessing:

life for evermore.

–Psalm 133, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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So then, let us be always seeking the ways which lead to peace and the ways in which we can support each other.  Do not wreck God’s work for the sake of food.

–Romans 14:19-20a, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The ethic of building up the common good is part of the Law of Moses and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In the Law of Moses we have responsibilities to and for each other.  A healthy communitarianism respects individual consciences while avoiding rugged individualism on hand and the tyranny of the majority on the other hand.  Our human reality is that we depend on God for everything and on each other.  We are, therefore, dependent and interdependent.  May we behave toward each toward each other according to the ethic of seeking the best for each other.  Joseph sought the best for his family members, even those who had almost killed him.  He should have sought the best for the Egyptians instead of reducing them to a state of serfdom in Genesis 47, however.  (The man was not entirely heroic.)

Sometimes the common good works via authority figures; sometimes it works around them.  Joseph’s boss was sympathetic to him, but the Pharaoh whom Moses knew was hostile.  Under the best possible circumstances authority figures will function as agents of the common good, but often we humans must work around them or even replace them.  Such is life.  If we can muster enough faith we will discover that God’s grace is more than sufficient for our required tasks.

As we go about the work of seeking the common good and building each other up, may we avoid ridiculous extremes which function mainly as fodder for criticisms of religion.  I recall that, when I was quite young, my sister and I were not supposed to play in the parsonage yard on Sunday afternoons.  My father was the local United Methodist pastor in a conservative rural community, some members of which retained overly strict–Puritanical, even–notions regarding Sabbath-keeping.  I mention this example to make a point:  If we place too much emphasis on what others think, we will restrict our own range of options (and that of our children, if we have any) needlessly.  Spiritually uptight people will have to deal with the consequences of their own constipation of the soul for themselves, without cramping my style.  Besides, my personal life is quiet, quite boring by many standards of what is “interesting,” and nobody’s business.  So I will persist in my behaviors, which according to many killjoys through the ages, are sinful:  playing chess, reading novels, dancing on occasion, eating meat, drinking tea, watching movies, et cetera.  I like intellectual stimulation, artistic fulfillment, antioxidants, and the taste of meat, none of which cause moral harm to anyone.  So why should anyone object?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 16. 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DIEFENBAKER AND LESTER PEARSON, PRIME MINISTERS OF CANADA; AND TOMMY DOUGLAS, FEDERAL LEADER OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY

THE FEAST OF JOHN JONES OF TALYSARN, WELSH CALVINISTIC METHODIST MINISTER AND HYMN TUNE COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF BROTHER ROGER OF TAIZE, FOUNDER OF THE TAIZE COMMUNITY

THE FEAST OF THE HOLY WOMEN OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

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Adapted from this post:

link

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This is post #1150 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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My Favorite Hymn   5 comments

I Bind Unto Myself Today

Above:  The First Two Pages of “I Bind Unto Myself Today” from The Hymnal (1918)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

You might have a favorite hymn, O reader.  I have one:  “I Bind Unto Myself Today,” with original words attributed to St. Patrick (372-466) and the English translation by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), wife of the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh.  I recall growing up in rural United Methodist congregations in southern Georgia, U.S.A.  Some of these churches considered gospel songs from the 1920s old.  How about a text which goes back the 400s in its original language?  Yes, I have a fine sense of history.  “I Bind Unto Myself Today” spans seven verses and four pages in the Episcopal Hymnal (1918) and seven verses and three pages in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982.  One of the better choices the recent hymnal committee for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) made was to include this hymn (in six verses on three pages) in Glory to God:  The Presbyterian Hymnal (2013).

Presbyterian

Above:  The First Page of “I Bind Unto Myself Today” from Glory to God:  The Presbyterian Hymnal (2013)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

The hymn appeals to my preference for wordy, theologically dense texts, as opposed to spirituals and “seven-eleven” songs with few, frequently repeated words.  I could nitpick the text, but why?

I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity,

by invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three.

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I bind this day to me for ever,

by power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;

his baptism in the Jordan river;

his death on cross for my salvation;

his bursting from the spiced tomb;

his riding up the heavenly way;

his coming at the day of doom:

I bind unto myself today.

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I bind unto myself the power

of the great love of cherubim;

the sweet “Well done” in judgment hour;

the service of the seraphim;

confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,

the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophet’s scrolls;

all good deeds done unto the Lord,

and purity of virgin souls.

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I bind unto myself today

the virtues of the starlit heaven,

the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,

the whiteness of the moon at even,

the flashing of the lightning free,

the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,

the stable earth, the deep salt sea,

around the old eternal rocks.

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I bind unto myself today

the power of God to hold and lead,

his eye to watch, his might to stay,

his ear to hearken to my need;

the wisdom of my God to teach,

his hand to guide, his shield to ward;

the word of God to give me speech,

his heavenly host to be my guard.

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Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

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I bind unto myself the Name,

the strong Name of the Trinity,

by invocation of the same,

the Three in One, and One in Three.

Of whom all nature hath creation,

eternal Father, Spirit, Word:

praise to the Lord of my salvation,

salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Is the hymn not glorious?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 15, 2014 COMMON ERA

TRINITY SUNDAY, YEAR A

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

THE FEAST OF EVELYN UNDERHILL, ANGLICAN MYSTIC

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

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Incense, Mustiness, and Sanctity   7 comments

Book of Common Worship 1993

Above:  The Title Page of the Book of Common Worship (1993)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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One does not plead for the use of incense–Presbyterians are not likely to come to that–but at least one may protest against mistaking a general odor of mustiness for the odor of sanctity.

–Kenneth J. Foreman, Professor of Philosophy and Bible, Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina, in “Better Worship for Better Living,” Presbyterian Survey, August 1932, page 482

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Foreman’s words struck a chord with me a few years ago, when I found the quote while conducting research.  In fact, I chuckled quietly, as I was in a library at the time.  And, as I have affirmed since, Foreman was correct.

The worship of the living God ought to be an activity characterized by decorum and great dignity.  This attitude of mine explains why I dislike revivalism, the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, and contemporary worship, and why I gravitate toward good liturgy.  And yes, I like the use of incense.  Some of the rural United Methodist congregations my father served in southern Georgia, U.S.A., were musty by Foreman’s standard.  Prolonged exposure and subjection to bad liturgy starved my soul.  Now, fortunately, good liturgy has become my steady diet.

U.S. Presbyterianism, despite its strong Puritan-influenced rejection of formal worship, comes from the Church of Scotland, which had a formal liturgy in the 1500s.  (The Church of Scotland, which has had its liturgical ups and downs over the centuries, retains an edition of the Book of Common Order.)  Formal worship–including frequent Holy Communion–is part of the Reformed Christian heritage–its tradition.  Yet this fact constitutes news to many pious Reformed Christians, especially in the United States, where many such congregations follow worship patterns influenced more by Puritanism and bygone rugged frontier conditions than their Protestant Reformation heritage.  As The Worship Sourcebook, Second Edition (2013), a product of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, states:

The biblical Psalms may well have functioned as a prayer book for the people of Israel.  Some of the earliest Christians compiled their advice about forms and patterns of worship into church order documents, the first of which, the Didache, dates back perhaps into the first century A.D.  Over time, especially in the early Medieval period, these documents grew very complex, with detailed instructions about every aspect of worship.

In the Reformation period Martin Luther and John Calvin called for significant changes to recommended or dictated patterns of worship by simplifying the structure and testing every text by theological criteria.  Out of the various Reformation traditions, the Anglican and Lutheran traditions retained the most detailed instructions.  The Anglican tradition preserved common patterns and texts for worship in the famous Book of Common Prayer, while the Lutherans did so in several editions of service books, adapted for use in each town. The Reformed tradition was also a service book tradition, albeit with far simpler liturgy.  In addition to the influence of Huldrych Zwingli’s liturgy, Calvin’s Genevan liturgies were adapted for use in Scotland and Hungary, while new liturgies that were developed near Heidelberg, Germany, became influential in the Netherlands.  Throughout the early decades of the Reformation, pastors did not create new orders of service for worship each week, as so many do today.  Worship was, to the surprise of many contemporary readers, “by the book.”

Despite this tradition, most evangelical and even many Reformed and Presbyterian congregations in North America have resisted the use of formal service books and set liturgies.  This resistance resulted partly from the influence of Puritan critiques of “by the book worship, which were much more stringent than critiques offered by the Reformers.  Other influences included the formation of early Methodist, Baptist, Anabaptist, and other “free church” congregations. as well as the spread of North American populism, pragmatism, and revivalism.  Congregations in many streams of North American Christianity have long resisted being told how to structure worship and have cherished their ability to respond to their own preferences and sense of what is most effective.

As a result, thousands of North American congregations today owe a great deal both to both a two-thousand-year history of service books and to the legacy of North American freedom and populism.  In recent years amid remarkable changes in the practice of worship, hundreds of those congregations are looking for new ways to appropriate both of these aspects of their identity.  Some efforts go by the names “blended worship,” “convergence worship,” or even “ancient-future” worship.  But despite vast and remarkable growth in contemporary music based on popular styles, many of the best-selling books on worship today are, ironically, studies of worship in the early church, prayer books for formal daily prayer, and books about the recovery of the sacraments.  Recent innovations under the umbrella of terms like “postmodern worship” and “alternative worship” sometimes feature even greater interest in traditional forms and texts than in the “contemporary worship” of the 1980s and 1990s–though in configurations that elude easy categorization.

–Pages 28 and 29

Worship the Lord 2005

Above:  The Cover of Worship the Lord:  The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America (2005)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Laudable Reformed Christian rituals and service books exist.  I point, for example, to the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (1993)  and Book of Occasional Services (1999) as well as to the Reformed Church in America’s Worship the Lord (2005), all of which grace my liturgy library (the Book of Occasional Services as a free PDF).  But how many PC(USA) churchgoers know of their Book of Common Worship?  And how many Reformed Church in America worshipers attend congregations which make little use of the 2005 liturgy?

The first words which enter my mind when I ponder worship in the Presbyterian Church are

decently and in order.

In other words, I think of decorum and great dignity–even if the forms are simpler than they are elsewhere.  Worship patterns vary within denominations, of course, so this generalization does not apply universally among Presbyterians (or members of other denominations).  Yet I affirm the historic Presbyterian commitment to dignity and decorum in worship.

There is a High Church Presbyterian movement; it has existed in its renewed form since at least the middle 1800s.  I have availed myself of archive.org and downloaded certain congregational and semi-official and official service books from Reformed churches.  Such downloaded files join volumes, such as every edition of the U.S. Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (starting with the 1906 edition) as invaluable parts of my liturgy library.  I have found denunciations of these “Episcoterian” tendencies in certain online forums.  Perhaps the authors of some of these posts need to review the history of their own tradition and ponder Professor’s Foreman’s critique.

I will be in my Episcopal parish, bowing to the high altar and to processional crosses most Sunday mornings.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 7, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAMES HEWITT MCGOWN, HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINTS DRAUSINUS AND ANSERICUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF SOISSONS; SAINT VINDICIAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF CAMBRAI; AND SAINT LEODEGARIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF AUTUN

THE FEAST OF EDWARD OSLER, ENGLISH DOCTOR, EDITOR, AND POET

THE FEAST OF SAINT PERPETUA AND HER COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

Living in an Aquarium   2 comments

3b49065r

Above:  Visit the Aquarium in Fairmount Park (1936 or 1937), by Robert Muchley

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/wpapos/item/95514347/)

Reproduction Number = LC-USZC4-3397

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A Related Post:

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/a-preachers-kids-defense-of-clerical-continence/

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I spent much of my childhood taking the grand tour of the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church.  Moving as often as we did proved detrimental to me, an introvert.  Now, however, I am glad to report, I have lived in the same town for almost eight and a half years and in the same home for almost six and a half years.  Such stability would have been unimaginable during my youth.

Recently I have been examining my photographic albums.  Looking at pictures from decades ago has dredged up old memories, which I have not revisited for some time.  Memories of awkward childhood incidents have reminded me of how much I have changed and how fortunate I have become.  They also remind me of how blessed I am to have found a place I fit in–St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, which I have attended since August 2005.  I am outcast no longer.

My main memory of my United Methodist childhood in southern Georgia is that I lived in a series of proverbial glass houses–fish bowls or aquariums.  Many people–especially church members–held me to a higher standard than they did others, perhaps even themselves–or at least that was the impression with which I lived.  I went through life with the sense that I was always “on stage”–a terrible way to live.  I never got into any serious trouble as a youth.  My adolescent rebellion consisted mainly of modern art and modern classical music, in fact.  Whenever morality failed to regulate my behavior, fear of consequences did the job.  But I affirmed then what I repeat now:  There should be just one standard–one informed by graciousness and forgiveness.

Now I live in the liberty of a lay person.  Now I ca say and write safely basic sentiments which would have been risky when I was growing up and having to think about potential blowback upon my father, mother, sister, and self.  (My father’s public support for the Martin Luther King, Jr., federal holiday contributed to his move out of one racist town in the 1980s, so I am not referring to especially incendiary material.)  It is good to be among the laity.

So, if any of you, O readers, seek a positive lesson to learn from this post and to apply to your lives, here it is:  Do not hold your clergy people and their family members to a double standard.  No, think and act graciously, in a forgiving manner.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 8, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPHINE BAKHITA, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN OF MALTA AND FELIX OF VALOIS, FOUNDERS OF THE ORDER OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY

THE FEAST OF SAINT JEROME EMILIANI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF WINFIELD SCOTT HANCOCK, U.S. ARMY GENERAL

The Corporeal and the Spiritual   2 comments

Jesus Bookmark

Above:  A Jesus Bookmark

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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The Collect:

Almighty and eternal God,

the strength of those who believe and the hope of those who doubt,

may we, who have not seen,

have faith in you and receive the fullness of Christ’s blessing,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 32

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The Assigned Readings:

Song of Songs 2:8-15 (5th Day)

Song of Songs 5:9-6:3 (6th Day)

Song of Songs 8:6-7 (7th Day)

Psalm 16 (All Days)

Colossians 4:2-5 (5th Day)

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (6th Day)

John 20:11-20 (7th Day)

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Some Related Posts:

Song of Songs:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/advent-devotion-for-december-21/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/18/proper-9-year-a/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/proper-17-year-b-3/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/devotion-for-may-18-19-and-20-in-ordinary-time-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/devotion-for-may-21-in-ordinary-time-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/devotion-for-may-22-and-23-in-ordinary-time-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Colossians 4:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/devotion-for-september-15-16-and-17-lcms-daily-lectionary/

1 Corinthians 15:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/fifth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/first-day-of-easter-easter-sunday-year-b-principal-service/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/23/week-of-proper-19-thursday-year-2-and-week-of-proper-19-friday-year-2/

John 20:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/third-day-of-easter-tuesday-in-easter-week/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/devotion-for-june-23-24-and-25-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;

my body also shall not rest in hope.

–Psalm 16:9, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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The Song of Songs, I heard growing up, is about the relationship between Christ and the Church.  Balderdash!  There is also a Jewish allegorical interpretation which claims that the book is about the relationship between God and Israel.  I do not accept that either.  No, the Song of Songs is exactly what it appears to be–a series of poetic texts about a love affair between a man and a woman who may or may not be married to each other but who are in danger because of their love.

Hence the Song of Songs is about human erotic relationships.  And it belongs in the Canon of Jewish and Christian Scripture.  As J. Coert Rylaardsdam writes in Volume 10 (1964) of The Layman’s Bible Commentary:

Its [the Song of Songs’] respect for life is expressed in the savoring of it; and it is this that makes it a very important commentary on the meaning of the confession that God is the Creator of all things.  The presence of the Song in Scripture is a most forceful reminder that to confess God as Creator of all things visible and invisible is to deny that anything is “common” (see Acts 10:9-16) or, to use the cliché of today, “secular.”  This book teaches that all life is holy, not because we, as Christians, make it so, but because it is made and used by the living God.

–page 140

If that analysis seems odd to one, that fact indicates a different worldview than the Song’s authors had.  As Rylaardsdam writes on page 138:

The people who wrote the Bible had no equivalent of our notion of the “secular”; they did not separate the natural from the sacred as we often do, for they took very seriously the confession of God as Creator of all.

As Dr. Amy-Jill Levine says in her 2001 Teaching Company Course, The Old Testament, much of what was normative in biblical times has ceased to be so.  That is certainly true for those of us in the global West, shaped by the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment.  Modernity differs greatly from antiquity, in ways both good and bad.

Much of the Christian tradition–including the legacy of St. Paul the Apostle, a great evangelist who suffered much, to the point of martyrdom–contains discomfort with the corporeal.  Human bodies can be messy and otherwise unpleasant, to be sure, but their potential for temptation has attracted much attention.  Much of Christian tradition has obsessed about the latter fact excessively, even encouraging a universal, false dichotomy between the flesh and the spirit–a dichotomy absent from the Song of Songs.

That frequent and erroneous distrust of the flesh has influenced the Christology of many people negatively, leading them to commit heresy.  To say that Jesus was fully human and fully divine is easy.  To deal with the “fully divine” aspect of that formulation can prove relatively uncontroversial.  Yet to unpack the “fully human” aspect holds the potential–often realized–to upset people.  In the early 1990s, for example, my father said in a sermon in southern Georgia, U.S.A., that Jesus had a sense of humor.  One lady, a longtime member of the congregation, took offense, claiming that he had insulted her Jesus.

Yet the Incarnation is about both the corporeal and the spiritual.  And the resurrected Jesus was no phantom, for he had a physical form.  The Incarnation means several things simultaneously.  Among them is an affirmation of the goodness of creation, including human physicality.  If that physicality makes us uncomfortable–if we perceive it as antithetical to spiritual well-being–we have a spiritual problem, one of erroneous categories and at least on false dichotomy.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 14, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT VENANTIUS HONORIUS CLEMENTIUS FORTUNATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS

THE FEAST OF CARL PHILIPP EMANUEL BACH, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/devotion-for-the-fifth-sixth-and-seventh-days-of-easter-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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