A Light to the Nations VI   Leave a comment

Above:  Pottery Oil Lamp

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-12216

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FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Lord, you see that all hearts are empty unless you fill them,

and that all desires are balked unless they crave for you.

Give us light and grace to seek and find you, that you may be ours forever.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 85

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Isaiah 49:8-13

Psalm 10

Ephesians 2:11-18

Matthew 5:14-20

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These readings mesh especially well.  They also return to the familiar theme of being a light to the nations.

Psalm 10 asks why God stands at a distance while, as the New American Bible states the matter,

Arrogant scoundrels pursue the poor;

they trap them by their cunning schemes.

–Verse 2

This is a timeless question.  Today, as in Psalm 10, the wicked crouch and lurk (figuratively, of course), with the purpose of ambushing and trapping the poor.  The reference to that pose is a literary allusion to Genesis 4:7, in which sin crouches and lurks at the door.  The author of Psalm 10 concludes on a note of confidence in God, but one might wonder how sincerely.  One could just as well speak the last several verses sarcastically; that would fit well with the rest of the psalm.

Isaiah 49:8-13, set in the context of the return from the Babylonian Exile, seems to answer the author of Psalm 10.  Gentile monarchs and nobles will revere God, who has taken back His afflicted ones in love.  God will act and keep faith, or hesed, with the afflicted.  God will be the light that attracts Gentiles to Himself.  Therefore, as in Ephesians 2, in Christ artificial barriers, such as those that separate Jews from Gentiles, cease to exist.  As we know from scriptures I have covered in previous posts in this series, Jews and faithful Gentiles are the Chosen People together.

That is so, but this reality does not change the fact that many people who consider themselves faithful prefer to preserve categories that Jesus erases.  My best guess is that these individuals labor under the incorrect impression of what divinely approved categories are and what merely human categories are.  Each of us who call ourselves faithful are guilty of this offense to some degree.

As Matthew 5:14-20 reminds us, we are the light of the world.  Yet many of us hide or misdirect our light.  We have an obligation to shed the light on God, for the sake of divine glory.  We ought to be the polar opposite of the oppressors in Psalm 10.  They boast in their greed and deny that, if God exists, He does not care.  (See Psalms 14 and 53 about that point.)  They seem to be amoral.  They shine their light on themselves, to their glory, such as it is.

God does care–quite deeply, of course.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SUNDAR SINGH, INDIAN CHRISTIAN EVANGELIST

THE FEAST OF DAVID PENDLETON OAKERHATER, EPISCOPAL DEACON

THE FEAST OF SAINT FIACRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

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A Light to the Nations V   Leave a comment

Above:  The Adoration of the Magi, by Albrecht Durer

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-40191

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

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We ask, Lord, that you mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you,

and that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do,

and may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 85

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Isaiah 60:1-3, 6b

Psalm 24

Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12

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Isaiah 60 and Psalm 24 state that God is the King, a ruler superior to human rulers who shed the blood of the innocent, commit injustice shamelessly, and do not care about integrity.  God is not fully the King of the Earth yet, we read, but that will change.  God is certainly superior to the unstable and evil Herod the Great, a client ruler within the Roman Empire and a man fearful of a young boy.

Interestingly, Father Raymond E. Brown, author of The Birth of the Messiah (1977 and 1993) and An Introduction to the New Testament (1997), both magisterial works of Biblical scholarship, was dubious of the story in Matthew 2 (considering the account in Luke 2, despite its factual errors, more plausible) yet affirmed the Virgin Birth.  For a long time many scholars–even conservative ones–have struggled to reconcile the very different stories in Matthew 2 and Luke 2.  Nevertheless, would not visiting Magi have been more likely than a virginal conception and subsequent birth?

Regardless of the objective reality regarding that matter, the kingship of God remains.  Most of God’s subjects are Gentiles, whom He does not exclude from the potential for salvation.  This is an old theme in the Bible, given the faithful Gentiles who appear in the pages of the Hebrew Bible.  The narrative makes room for the civilly disobedient midwives Shiphrah and Puah (probably ethnically Egyptian) in Exodus 1, for Rahab the prostitute of Jericho and her family in Joshua 2 and 6, and Ruth in Ruth 1-4, for example.  The four chapters of Jonah, a work of fiction and a Jewish protest against post-Babylonian Exilic exclusionary attitudes among Jews, remain relevant in many settings.  We read of some Gentile Godfearers in John 12:20-36.  Faithful Gentiles, we read in epistles of St. Paul the Apostle as well as those texts others wrote in his name, join the Jews in the ranks of the Chosen People.  Are not the Chosen People–Jews and Gentiles–supposed to be a light to the nations, that is, Gentiles?

The message of God is for all people.  Not all will accept it, however; that is their decision.  The offer is on the table one way or another, however.  It is a generous offer and a gift.  The grace is free yet not cheap, for it makes demands of all its recipients.  So be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SUNDAR SINGH, INDIAN CHRISTIAN EVANGELIST

THE FEAST OF DAVID PENDLETON OAKERHATER, EPISCOPAL DEACON

THE FEAST OF SAINT FIACRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

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Good News   Leave a comment

Above:  Nunc Dimittis

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Father, you have declared your love to humankind by the birth of the holy child at Bethlehem.

Help us to welcome him with gladness and to make room for him in our common days,

so that we may live at peace with one another and in good will with all your family;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 76

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Zechariah 2:10-13

Psalm 34

Hebrews 1:1-12

Luke 2:21-32

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Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.

Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity;

you love righteousness and hate wickedness.

–Psalm 45:6-7a, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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The author of Psalm 34 praised God for deliverance from trouble.

O taste and see that the LORD is good;

happy are they who take refuge in him.

–Psalm 34:8, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Exiles whom God commanded to flee from the place of their captivity (in Zechariah 2) must have felt grateful.  Certainly the captors did not feel blessed, however.  Those who lived by the sword died the same way.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews quoted Psalm 45:6-7 in 1:8-9.  He did so in reference to Jesus, a deliverer of a variety different from Cyrus II, King of the Persians and the Medes.  Jesus was greater than Cyrus.  However, Jesus (the historical figure, not the eternal Second Person of the Trinity; Christology is complicated) had a humble origin as a baby.  He did not outwardly seem great to uninformed people at first.  Simeon of Jerusalem was among the informed; he recognized the Messiah immediately.

Now, Lord, you are releasing your servant in peace,

according to your promise.

For I have seen with my own eyes

the deliverance you have made ready in full view of all nations:

a light that will bring revelation to the Gentiles

and glory to your people Israel.

–Luke 2:29-32, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The reading, however, should extend through verse 35, at least.  By continuing to read we find the predictions of the rejection of Jesus and the piercing of Mary’s heart.

Often good news comes mixed with bad news–sometimes for the same people.  Does this reality shake our confidence that God is good?

As for revelation to the Gentiles, we will pick up that thread in the next post.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 1, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SUNDAR SINGH, INDIAN CHRISTIAN EVANGELIST

THE FEAST OF DAVID PENDLETON OAKERHATER, EPISCOPAL DEACON

THE FEAST OF SAINT FIACRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

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Best Wishes for the New Year II   Leave a comment

Above:  Happy New Year Lithograph (1876), by Currier & Ives

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-pga-09060

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FOR NEW YEAR’S DAY, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN  THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Eternal God, always the same,

Grant us so to pass through this coming year with faithful hearts

that we may be able in all things to please you;  through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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

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Ecclesiastes 11:6-9; 12:13

Psalm 27

Revelation 21:1-6a

Luke 9:57-62

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The readings from Ecclesiastes and Luke say, as Ecclesiastes 12:13 states succinctly,

Revere God and observe His commandments!

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

In the case of Luke 9:57-62 one does well to recall that Jesus was en route to Jerusalem to die.  It makes sense, then, that he made no excuses and accepted none either.

Psalm 27 encourages confidence in God, even in the midst of many enemies.  This is well-placed trust, for God is the one whose new world order of righteousness (as in Revelation 21) does not depend on human actions to come to fruition.  We are still waiting, of course, but we can also have confidence in God.

These themes of obedience and confidence come together nicely for New Year’s Day, a traditional time for new beginnings.  It is also a traditional time to make quickly abandoned and broken resolutions.  My prayer for all people is that God’s best for them may be their reality.  Regardless of the status of your plans, O reader, to do better in some way–diet, career, spiritual development, et cetera, may the new year find you in a continual state of enjoying God’s best for you as your reality.  May you trust in God more than you do already and respond more faithfully to God than you do already.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 29, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE BEHEADING OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

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A Light to the Nations IV   Leave a comment

Above:  A Map of the World, 1726

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-62077

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

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Eternal God, who by the birth of your beloved Son Jesus Christ gave yourself to humankind,

Grant that, being born in our hearts, he may save us from all our sins,

and restore within us the image and likeness of our creator,

to whom be everlasting praise and glory, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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

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Isaiah 42:1-9

Psalm 2

1 John 4:9-16

John 1:1-14

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The most probable identity of the servant of God in Isaiah 42:1-9 is the people of Israel themselves.  They, the Chosen People, have the responsibility to be a light to the nations, or Gentiles.  This is a light the subjects of Psalm 2 oppose; the light of God is not a priority for them.  Another proposed identity for the servant in Isaiah 42 is the Messiah.  This fits well with John 1:1-14 and 1 John 4:9-16.  We can also discern from 1 John 4 that faithful Gentiles get to share with Jews and the Messiah in being a light to the nations.

The light we are supposed to share is one that places the spotlight on God, not on ourselves.  As the Westminster Catechisms state, man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  Discipleship entails humility before God.  May we shed light on God humbly, unabashedly, and dutifully, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 29, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE BEHEADING OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

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Posted August 29, 2017 by neatnik2009 in 1 John 4, Isaiah 42, John 1, Psalm 2

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The Scandal of Grace at Christmas   1 comment

Above:  Angels Announcing Christ’s Birth to the Shepherds, by Govert Flinck

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR CHRISTMAS DAY, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN  THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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God, you make us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ.

Grant that we may joyfully receive him as our Redeemer,

so we may with sure confidence behold him when comes to be our judge,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 76

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Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 (Protestant)/Isaiah 9:1, 5-6 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Psalm 5

Galatians 4:1-7

Luke 2:1-20

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The setting of Luke 2 is troublesome within itself.  There was no such imperial census, we know from historical records, but there was a regional census in Judea (not in the Galilee) in 6 and 7 C.E., written records tell us.  Father Raymond E. Brown, in his magisterial Introduction to the New Testament, states that Luke’s account gets historical details wrong.  Brown also argues that Luke-Acts speaks of a divine plan set inside the Roman Empire.  The text of Luke-Acts contextualizes the birth of Jesus in the reign of the Emperor Augustus (Luke 2) and concludes with the arrival of St. Paul the Apostle in Rome (Acts 28).  Brown writes of the song of the angels to the shepherds.  That song, he insists, is similar to an imperial proclamation in an empire that labeled Augustus the savior of the world.  The point is plain:  Christ is greater than Augustus.

In Psalm 5 the beleaguered author (allegedly David) seeks divine deliverance from his enemies.  He, referring to the Temple, writes,

But I can enter your house

because of your great love.

–Verse 8a, The New American Bible

In Christ we have the Temple in the flesh.  This is the Temple that became flesh out of great love.

The reading from Isaiah 9 is a description of the ideal Davidic king.  One probably thinks most intensely about the ideal ruler when one’s ruler falls far short of the ideal and does not try to live up to that ideal.  Otherwise one might extol the virtues of one’s ruler instead.  In this case the ideal Davidic king, according to the standard, traditional English-language translations is, as The New Revised Standard Version (1989) states:

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

–Verse 6c

Perhaps the familiar language obscures the meaning of the Hebrew text.  Consider then, O reader, the translation from TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985):

The Mighty God is planning grace;

The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler.

–Verse 5c

This version cuts to the chase nicely; God is planning grace.  We find another example of that grace in Galatians 3 and 4.  At the end of Galatians 3 we read in a glorious and duly famous passage that, through Jesus, Gentile believers join the ranks of Jews as “sons of God,” a term that indicates being the Chosen People, as in Deuteronomy 14:1-2.  With grace, such as that which makes people “sons of God,” also comes responsibility to shed the light of God brightly.  That is fair.  Grace is free yet certainly not cheap, for it requires much of its recipients.  That is fair.

Traditional categories, such as Jews, Greeks, slaves, free people, males, and females do not divide “sons of God,” all of whom are heirs of God.  That is wonderful news!  Why, then, do so many of us maintain, magnify, and create categories for the purpose of defining ourselves as the in-crowd and other “sons of God” as outsiders?  All who do so demonstrate that they prefer psychological comfort to the scandal of grace.

Grace is scandalous.  By means of it we receive more than we deserve; so do people we dislike strongly.  We, like the author of Psalm 5, want better than we deserve yet desire the worst for our foes.  By means of grace a defenseless newborn boy is greater than Augustus Caesar.  Much is possible via grace.

Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 29, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE BEHEADING OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

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A New Birth of Justice   Leave a comment

Above:  The Virgin in Prayer, by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Almighty and everlasting God, you are brightness of faithful souls and the desire of all nations.

So fill the world with your glory and show yourself by the radiance of your light

that all the peoples of the earth may be subject to you;  through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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

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Isaiah 7:10-14

Psalm 31

Titus 2:11-3:7

Matthew 1:18-25

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The Gospel of Matthew appropriates and reinterprets a story from Isaiah 7.  The assigned reading from that story is too short; it should be 7:1-17, at least.

Ahaz (reigned 743/735-727/715 B.C.E.) was the King of Judah.  He was one of the many monarchs who received a negative review in the Bible.  Jerusalem, Ahaz’s capital city, was under threat from allied forces of Israel (the northern kingdom) and Aram (Syria).  God, via the prophet Isaiah, sent a reassuring message to Ahaz; the effort of the two allied kings,

those two smoking stubs of firebrands

–Isaiah 7:4, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

would fail.  Ahaz, when prompted to ask for a sign of divine deliverance, pretended to be pious and refused to request a sigh.  He received one anyway.  A young woman (literally, a maiden) would give birth to a son.  The sign of divine deliverance from imminent destruction was new, vulnerable life.

One might be like the author of Psalm 31 and seek refuge in God when under threat.  Alternatively, one might be like Ahaz and not seek it yet receive it anyway.

The reading from Titus is disturbing.  The author, writing in the name of St. Paul the Apostle, writes a leader of the church on the island of Crete.  The assigned portion of this epistle follows directly from verses that indicate that slaves must be thoroughly under the control of their masters and never talk back to them or steal from them.  The purpose of slaves behaving “properly” will be

to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every way.

–Verse 10b, The New American Bible

The pericope indicates a concern for orderliness and obedience to authority, as opposed to lawlessness.  We read that we used to be slaves to a range of pleasures of desires.  Being that kind of slave is negative in Titus, but being a literal slave is permissible.  Huh?  Actually, legalized slavery and other forms of institutionalized injustice are worse than lawlessness, for opposition to such injustice is a virtue.

The Letter to Titus indicates the degree to which certain elements of early Christianity accommodated themselves to societal and legal norms of the Roman Empire.  I do not advise reflexive contrariness regarding societal and legal norms, but I do state unequivocably that we who claim to follow God–in Christ, in particular–have a moral duty to march to the beat of a different drummer.  Whenever law and society are correct, that is wonderful.  But whenever law and society are wrong, we have an obligation to say so and to act accordingly.  After all, as Titus 2:12 tells us, we should live justly, devoutly, and temperately.  And, to delve into an earlier portion of Titus 2, sound teaching is vital.

Slavery is contrary to sound teaching.  Here I stand; I will not do otherwise.  This is one point on which I differ from the author of the epistle.  Another is the affirmation of the slur against Cretans in 1:12-13.

As we await the celebration of the birth of Jesus–certainly new, vulnerable life, may we recommit ourselves in his name–the name of one executed unjustly and legally by the Roman Empire–to a new birth of justice for all in the world.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 28, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMBROSE OF MILAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; MONICA OF HIPPO, MOTHER OF SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO; AND AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO, BISHOP OF HIPPO REGIUS

THE FEAST OF DENIS WORTMAN, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF LAURA S. COPERHAVER, U.S. LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER AND MISSIONARY LEADER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MOSES THE BLACK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND MARTYR

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