Archive for the ‘Abraham’ Tag

Passing or Failing Spiritual Tests   Leave a comment

Above:  Temptations of Christ

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Almighty God, who givest us our quiet seasons of thought and prayer:

help us now and at all times to find in thee our true peace.

Save us in the hour of trial, deliver us from evil thoughts and desires,

and from the tyranny of outward things.

May we learn of Christ to be strong and brave in the struggle with temptation,

and to over come even as he overcame.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 120-121

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Genesis 22:1-8

2 Corinthians 6:1-10

Matthew 4:1-11

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One’s sole basis of identity should be God, according to Henri J. M. Nouwen, writing in The Way of the Heart (1981).  That standard proves daunting for me, for my ego rests on several factors, including my intellect.

In Matthew 4 we read of the temptations of Jesus.  Analyses of the temptations, with slight variations, follow the same pattern.  Nouwen’s argument is that the temptations were, in order, were “the three great compulsions of the world”:  to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful.  The case according to M. Eugene Boring, writing in Volume VIII (1995) of The New Interpreter’s Bible, follows:

  1. To fulfill messianic expectations and gain political power by feeding the masses,
  2. To demonstrate dramatically that he is the Son of God, and
  3. To serve Satan, to rule as the Roman Emperor did, and to accept and fit in with the status quo.

The case according to Douglas R. A. Hare (1993) is that the temptations were, in order, to distrust God, to dishonor God, and to commit idolatry.

I would be remiss if I chose not to quote the play, Cotton Patch Gospel (1982), set in the U.S. South.  In that paraphrase, Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into grits.  Jesus replies,

Man doesn’t live by grits alone, but on every word that drips from the lips of God.

–35

I experience no temptation to justify the actions of Abraham in Genesis 22.  My analysis differs from what one may have read and heard elsewhere:  God tested Abraham, and Abraham failed, for he should have argued from the beginning.

Abraham cared more about strangers, on whose behalf he haggled with God in Genesis 18, than he about his sons.  He exiled Ishmael in Genesis 21 and was prepared to kill Isaac in Genesis 22.  Arguing faithfully with God has long been part of Judaism and, by extension, Christianity.  Abraham, at the root of Judaism, had argued with God.  Why was he submissive at this crucial moment?  And how much did he damage his domestic relationships?

I have probably read every traditional rationalization of Genesis 22:1-19.  Not one has satisfied me.

One could write about more than one theme present in 2 Corinthians 6, but verse 3 stands out in my mind.  Erecting spiritual obstacles is a frequent human activity.  One might even mistake doing so for being properly devout.  Who is an outsider?  Who is an insider?  Our answers to those may be predictable, but God’s answers may shock us.  Also, we must trust in God if we are to grow spiritually, but do we really understand divine intentions at crucial moments?

One may wish for a clear–even spectacular–sign or signs.  Yet would we understand those, or would we find the signs distracting and miss the message?  Yes, we would, correct?

I ask God for no spectacular signs.  No, I need simply to pay attention to my surroundings.  As I type these words, the seasons are finally turning–from an abbreviated autumn to an early winter.  The splendor of autumn leaves, cold temperatures, and other wonders of nature satisfy many of my spiritual needs.

Trusting in God remains difficult for me much of the time, but doing so is at least less difficult than it used to be.  Grace accounts for that change.  I trust more progress will ensue.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 12, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSAPHAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF POLOTSK, AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCES XAVIER CABRINI, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF THE SACRED HEART

THE FEAST OF RAY PALMER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ARTHUR DUNKERLEY, BRITISH NOVELIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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Nature and Human Nature   Leave a comment

Above:  Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, by Ludolf Bakhuizen

Image in the Public Domain

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

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O God, who knowest us to be in the midst of many dangers, that we cannot always stand upright;

grant to us such strength and protection that we may be supported in all difficulty,

and our feet be set against temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 119

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Genesis 18:22-33

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Matthew 8:23-27

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The story of Abraham haggling with God for the lives of complete strangers in Genesis 18 impresses me.  It also causes me to wonder why he was so submissive to God’s demand in Genesis  21.  I can only guess how much psychological damage the sight of a father ready to kill his son (Isaac) caused to the son.

Above:  The Sacrifice of Isaac, by Caravaggio

Image in the Public Domain

The warning against sexual immorality in general in prostitution in particular in 1 Corinthians 6 is part of a longer discourse about sexual morality in that epistle.  Prostitution is not, despite the common term, a victimless crime.  Readings in history reveal that many prostitute have been sexual slaves, for example.  Furthermore, everyone involved pays some sort of price, monetary or otherwise.  Readings in history also reveal that many women have become prostitutes as a last resort–to avoid starvation.  Any society that forces people into that dilemma commits sin against God and them.

In the case of 1 Corinthians, temple prostitution is a matter to consider.  When one realizes that, one comes to understand that clients were uniting themselves with a false, imaginary deity, as well as with a prostitute.  This understanding adds depth to one’s grasp of the language about unions and a temple in the passage.

The title of this post is “Nature and Human Nature.”  The “human nature” aspect is plain from what precedes this paragraph.  For the rest we must turn to Matthew 8, where we read of Jesus calming an aquatic storm.  To be fearful when one’s life is in danger is human nature.  Sexuality is why the human species continues, as well as a means of commerce.  Advertising confirms the end of the previous sentence.

But what about empathy?  It is part of human nature, too.  Nevertheless, so is the lack of concern for strangers and those different from us.  The dehumanization and demonization of the “other” is an old–and current–strategy in politics and warfare.

The Incarnation had much meaning.  Part of that meaning was God empathizing with us.  This empathy was evident in the life and ministry of Jesus, who established examples for those who came to call themselves Christians to follow.

God, who has mastery over nature, commands us to live up to the best of our human nature and to rise above the depths of our human nature, for the sake of divine glory, the benefit of others, and the living into our potential in God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 29, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAMES HANNINGTON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF EASTERN EQUATORIAL AFRICA; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOMAUS HELDER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, COMPOSER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH GRIFF, ENGLISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PAUL MANZ, DEAN OF LUTHERAN CHURCH MUSIC

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Trusting in God, Part VIII   1 comment

Above:  Joseph Reveals His Dream to His Brethren, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 37:1-28 or Isaiah 30:15-25

Psalm 18:16-30

1 Corinthians 6:1-11

Matthew 11:2-19

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Patriarchs in Genesis had dysfunctional families.  Abraham tried to kill his son Isaac, on faith that God had told him to do so.  (Yes, I argue with that story.)  Isaac’s son Jacob, with the help of Jacob’s mother, fooled him and defrauded Esau.  Jacob seemed not to care about the rape of his daughter Dinah and, in a different context, acted in such a way as to foster tension among his sons, most of whom fooled him into thinking that his son Joseph was dead.  With family like that, who needs enemies?

The main idea in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 is that believers ought to conduct themselves in ways that glorify God and distinguish them from unbelievers.  Yet even when holy people do that, they will still receive criticism, for some people thrive on finding faults, even if those faults are imaginary.  It is preferable that the criticisms be baseless; that way they show up the critics.

During the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah (reigned 727/715-698/687 B.C.E.), the kingdom entered into a military alliance with Egypt against Assyria.  This was an ill-advised alliance; Egypt was not trustworthy.  The author of Isaiah 30 argued that the alliance indicated a lack of trust in God, who was reliable.  After the announcement of divine wrath followed the prediction of mercy.

Trusting in God liberates one to do as one should and become the person one should be.  One can lay aside the desire for revenge, not to lead a life defined by anger, and value justice instead.  With confidence in God one can avoid foolish decisions that end badly.  One, trusting in God, can find the source of ultimate peace and strength.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 30, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE JORDAN, SOUTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CHRYSOLOGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF RAVENNA AND DEFENDER OF ORTHODOXY

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICENTA CHÁVEZ OROZCO, FOUNDRESS OF THE SERVANTS OF THE HOLY TRINITY AND THE POOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIAM PINCHON, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/07/30/devotion-for-proper-15-year-a-humes/

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Faithful Servants of God, Part V   1 comment

Above:  Ministry of the Apostles

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Ecclesiastes 1:2-18 or Ezekiel 11:14-20

Psalm 3

Galatians 2:1-13

Matthew 4:12-25

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If one begins to read Ecclesiastes and gives up quickly, one might mistake the theme of the book to be that all is futility and vanity.  One might ask,

Why bother doing anything?

If, however, one keeps reading and pays attention, one will arrive at the précis of the book, present at its conclusion, in 12:13-14:  The duty of a human being is to stand in awe of God and keep divine commandments, for God is the judge of everything, whether good or evil.

That ethic is consistent with Ezekiel 11:14-20 and Psalm 3.  Fidelity to God does not ensure a life full of ease, wine, ad roses, but it is one’s duty.  It is the duty to which Jesus, who called his Apostles, continues to call people and for which the Holy Spirit continues to equip the saints.

Sometimes, however, in the name of obeying God, well-meaning people establish or maintain barriers to would-be faithful people who are different.  This segue brings me to the reading from Galatians and to the question of circumcising Gentile male converts to Christianity.  On one level it is a matter of a commandment as old as the time of Abraham.  On another level it is a question of identity.  On yet another level it is, for many, a matter of obedience to God.

For St. Paul the Apostle it was a stumbling block to Gentiles.  He was correct.  Fortunately, St. Paul won that debate.

Fidelity to God is supposed to help others come to God, not to make that more difficult than it is already.  May we who follow Christ never be guilty of standing between God and other people.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 19, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH OF NAZARETH, HUSBAND OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2018/03/19/devotion-for-the-third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a-humes/

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Scapegoating, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  The Scapegoat, by William Holman Hunt

Image in the Public Domain

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

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O God, who by the passion of your blessed Son has made

the instrument of shameful death to be to us the means of life and peace:

Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ that we may gladly suffer shame and loss;

for the sake of the same your Son our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 98

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Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13

Psalm 6

Hebrews 9:11-14

John 11:47-53

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The old Methodist lectionary from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965) has two sets of readings for the same Sunday–Palm/Passion Sunday.  The older tradition is to treat the Sunday at the beginning of Holy Week as a synopsis of that week.  That is what we have here.  Tailoring the observance of this Sunday is to be Palm Sunday–simply starting Holy Week–is what we will have in the next post.

We have sad and blood-soaked readings, as we should for Passion Sunday.  Genesis 22 offers the horrible story of Abraham nearly killing Isaac, his son.  We read previously in Genesis of Abraham negotiating with God for the lives of strangers (18:22-33), but we do not read of him doing the same for the life of his son.  The author of Psalm 6 is a severely ill person pleading for continued life.  Hebrews 9:11-14 reminds us of the power of the blood of Christ.  We read of the plot to scapegoat Jesus in John 11:47-53.  This is consistent with Luke  23, which emphasizes the innocence of Jesus and therefore the injustice of his crucifixion.

A scapegoat saves Isaac in Genesis 22 yet another scapegoat dies at Calvary.  I recall reading about the ultimate failure of the plot of Caiaphas to avoid the destruction of Jerusalem and Temple, for I remember reading about the First Jewish War a few decades later.  Scapegoating is a generally nasty practice, one that usually seeks to pervert justice.  One lesson of the scapegoating and crucifixion of Jesus is that we ought to abandon the practice of seeking scapegoats.

Another lesson is that God can work through human perfidy to fulfill divine purposes.  In the Gospel of John the crucifixion of Jesus is his glorification.  The insidious plot of Caiaphas, therefore, works for a higher purpose, despite the intentions of the high priest.  That is a fine example of the sovereignty of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 18, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE SIXTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF MARC BOEGNER, ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT GIULIA VALLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ISAAC HECKER, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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Metaphors and Repentance   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Transfiguration

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be to us both a sacrifice for sin,

and also an example of godly life:

Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit,

and also daily endeavor ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life;

through the same your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), pages 95-96

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Exodus 33:18-23

Psalm 40

Hebrews 12:18-29

Matthew 17:1-9

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The safest language to use when writing or speaking of the nature of God is that of poetic metaphors.  God is like a father.  God is like a mother eagle.  God is like a consuming fire.  God is literally none of these, and each of them is insufficient for the task of describing God adequately.  No human language can accomplish that job.

Perhaps anthropomorphizing God is impossible for a human being, for each of us has a human perspective.  The Bible contains much anthropomorphizing of the divine.  A ubiquitous assumption in the Hebrew Bible is that God has some kind of physical (probably human) form.  Related to that assumption, as in Exodus 33:18-23, is that to see the divine face is, in the words of a note from The Jewish Study Bible-Second Edition (2014),

too awesome for humans to survive.

–Page 179

That sense of the lethal holiness of God is absent from stories of Abraham, who literally walked with God, according to Genesis.  That sense of the lethal holiness of God is also absent from all the stories of Jesus.

The reading from Exodus 33 occurs within a narrative setting.  Prior to it Moses is pleading with God, who is refusing to dwell among the Hebrews.  In Chapter 34 God renews the covenant.  Then, in the construction of the Tabernacle (to replace the tent pitched outside the camp in Chapter 33) occurs and the Presence of the LORD fills the Tabernacle.

There is never a bad time to recommit to God, of course.  The season of Lent is a liturgical time set apart to emphasize such matters.  We all need reminders, do we not?  Fortunately, the church calendar proves helpful in that regard.  May we respond faithfully year-round to God, whose compassion is great, who desires that all turn to Him, who balances judgment in mercy in ways we cannot imagine, whose nature eludes us, and who approaches us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

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

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

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

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

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

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Psalm 105   2 comments

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POST XLI 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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Psalm 105 comes from the time after the end of the Babylonian Exile.  The author of the first fifteen verses (which also appear in 1 Chronicles 16:8-22) begins with Abraham and traces the covenant and the faithfulness of God through the time of Moses.

Concluding the psalm in the wilderness of the Sinai was an interesting choice.  It was consistent with the state of the Jews in Judea shortly after the end of the exile.  Life in the ancestral homeland during the early Persian period did not match the predictions of life in Heaven on earth.  Returned exiles, who lived in a wilderness of a sort, needed encouragement.

The sense of disappointment is a frequent human reality.  At such times considering what God has done is a proper practice.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 18, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ERDMANN NEUMEISTER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PORCHER DUBOSE, EPISCOPAL THEOLOGIAN

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