Archive for the ‘Anti-Semitism’ Tag

Perplexing Readings   1 comment

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

Image in the Public Domain

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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

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

Romans 11:1-21

Luke 16:1-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 27, 2020 COMMON ERA

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

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

THE FEAST OF CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, POET AND RELIGIOUS WRITER

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

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZITA OF TUSCANY, WORKER OF CHARITY

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Adapted from this post:

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

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Building Up Each Other in Christ, Part IV   1 comment

Above:  Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas at Lystra, by Alessandro Salucci

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Acts 13:14-16, 26-48

Psalm 114

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

Luke 15:21-37

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We need to be careful not to read the text from Acts 123 in an anti-Semitic manner.

  1. To do so is sinful.
  2. Sts. Paul and Barnabas were Jewish.
  3. Many of their supporters were Jewish.
  4. “The Jews” refers to hostile Jews.

Also, Psalm 114 fits well with St. Paul’s full address, portions of which the lection from Acts 13 omits.

The Lukan apocalypse is one of the Synoptic apocalypses in the context of Holy Week.  The wrath of God will come and the new world order of God will replace the current world order.  All of this is solely in the divine domain.

In the meantime, we have a mandate to build up each other and to leave the world better than we found it.  We can start by never repaying evil with evil, and by refraining from every kind of evil.

Writing those words is easy, but living according to them can be difficult.  Even when we seek to live according to the Golden Rule, we may inadvertently commit evil.  Weakness and ignorance are formidable foes.

May we start by seeking to live according to the Golden Rule and by trusting in God to guide us in understanding what that means (in detail) in various circumstances.  The Golden Rule is a timeless principle, but the proper application of timeless principles varies according to context, including who, when, and where one is.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 10, 2020 COMMON ERA

GOOD FRIDAY

THE FEAST OF PIERRE TEILHARD DE CHARDIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, SCIENTIST, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT FULBERT OF CHARTRES, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF HENRY VAN DYKE, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF HOWARD THURMAN, U.S. PROTESTANT THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM LAW, ANGLICAN PRIEST, MYSTIC, AND SPIRITUAL WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2020/04/10/devotion-for-the-seventh-sunday-of-easter-year-c-humes/

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Faithful Attitudes   Leave a comment

Above: The Uninvited Wedding Guest, by Vincent Malo

Image in the Public Domain

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For Tuesday in Holy Week, Year 1

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Almighty and Everlasting God, grant us grace so to contemplate the passion of our Lord,

that we may find therein forgiveness for our sins;

through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth

with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 159-160

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Lamentations 3:1-7, 18-33

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-19

Ephesians 2:13-22

Matthew 22:1-14

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The destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. seems to have influenced the telling of the parable in Matthew 22:1-14.  The  allegory, told from the perspective of marginalized Jewish Christians, is plain:  The judgment of God will fall not only on those who reject Jesus, but on elements of the Christian movement, too.

Before I proceed to other texts, I note that we Gentiles need to be careful not to commit anti-Semitism, whether consciously or otherwise.  The language of invective is always dangerous.  It makes sense, in historical context, circa 85 C.E., within the Jewish faith–the context for the composition of the Gospel of Matthew.  One can understand this example of invective in context without giving into it.  Besides, as we read in Ephesians, such divisions are supposed to end in Christ, crucified and resurrected.

So why do we insist on rebuilding those walls of division?

The unifying theme is the balance of judgment and mercy in God.  If one is an honest monotheist, one must affirm that God both afflicts and restores, and judges and forgives.  This theme is most prominent in Lamentations 3, in the voice of a man, the personification of exiles during the Babylonian Exile.  How can one affirm both that God has led people into exile and that those exiles should trust in God, whose mercies are not exhausted?

If you, O reader, expect a pat and easy answer from me, I disappoint you.  If, however, you expect an honest answer in which I admit to struggling with the question I have asked, I do not disappoint you.  Easy answers are for easy questions, and pat answers are probably never appropriate.  The life of faith is not about false certainty.  Much of the life of faith consists of admitting to doubts and to ignorance, and of following and trusting in God.

I distrust any theological system or approach that claims to have more correct answers than it does and that discourages honest questions.  Faith is not about having few or no questions and doubts; it is about struggling with them and working through them with God.

Lord, I don’t understand x, y, and z.  Perhaps I never will.  If so, so be it.  I still seek to follow you.

That is a faithful attitude.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 30, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT INNOCENT OF ALASKA, EQUAL TO THE APOSTLES AND ENLIGHTENER OF NORTH AMERICA

THE FEAST OF CORDELIA COX, U.S. LUTHERAN SOCIAL WORKER, EDUCATOR, AND RESETTLER OF REFUGEES

THE FEAST OF JOHN MARRIOTT, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN WRIGHT BUCKHAM, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JULIA ALVAREZ MENDOZA, MEXICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1927

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Uncomfortable and Difficult   2 comments

Above:  Elijah Slays the Prophets of Baal

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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Exodus 24:12-18 or 1 Kings 18:1, 17-40

Psalm 58

Hebrews 3

Mark 8:14-21

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I teach a Sunday School class in which I cover each week’s readings according to the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).  The RCL has much to commend it, but it is imperfect.  (Of course, it is imperfect; it is a human creation.)  The RCL skirts many challenging, violent passages of scripture.  This post is is a devotion for a Sunday on an unofficial lectionary, however.  The note on the listing for Psalm 58 reads,

Not for the faint of heart.

Indeed, a prayer for God to rip the teeth from the mouths of one’s enemies is not feel-good fare.  Neither is the slaughter of the prophets of Baal Peor (1 Kings 18:40).

I remember a Sunday evening service at my parish years ago.  The lector read an assigned passage of scripture with an unpleasant, disturbing conclusion then uttered the customary prompt,

The word of the Lord.

A pregnant pause followed.  Then the congregation mumbled its proscribed response,

Thanks be to God.

The theme uniting these five readings is faithfulness to God.  Jesus, we read, was the paragon of fidelity.  We should be faithful, too, and avoid committing apostasy.  We should also pay attention and understand, so we can serve God better.  Hopefully, metaphors will not confuse us.

I perceive the need to make the following statement.  Even a casual study of the history of Christian interpretation of the Bible reveals a shameful record of Anti-Semitism, much of it unintentional and much of it learned.  We who abhor intentional Anti-Semitism still need to check ourselves as we read the Bible, especially passages in which Jesus speaks harshly to or of Jewish religious leaders in first-century C.E. Palestine.  We ought to recall that he and his Apostles were practicing Jews, too.  We also need to keep in mind that Judaism has never been monolithic, so to speak of “the Jews” in any place and at any time is to open the door to overgeneralizing.

To condemn long-dead Jewish religious leaders for their metaphorical leaven and not to consider our leaven would be to miss an important spiritual directive.  To consider our leaven is to engage in an uncomfortable, difficult spiritual exercise.  It does not make us feel good about ourselves.

We also need to ask ourselves if we are as dense as the Apostles in the Gospel of Mark.  To do that is uncomfortable and difficult, also.

Sometimes we need for scripture to make us uncomfortable.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 25, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES BAR-ZEBEDEE, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2019/07/25/devotion-for-proper-19-year-b-humes/

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Hypocrisy   1 comment

Above:  Burying the Body of Joseph

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 50:14-26 or Isaiah 58:1-14

Psalm 31:19-24

1 Corinthians 12:1-13

Matthew 21:10-27

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Avoiding hypocrisy entirely is impossible, but one can avoid it more often than not, by grace.  One can avoid it more today than tomorrow, by grace.

Hypocrisy is the topic that unites the assigned readings.

  1. Joseph’s brothers feared he might have been a hypocrite when he said he forgave them in Chapter 45.  He was no hypocrite.
  2. God, speaking through Third Isaiah, condemned the hypocrisy of fasting (as to appear pious) yet exploiting and otherwise harming people.
  3. The author of Psalm 31 feared lying, wicked people.
  4. Jesus took offense at the hypocrisy of the Temple establishment and Israel in general, hence the Temple Incident (as Biblical scholars call it) and the cursing of the fig tree.

May we of the current generation refrain from a variety of sins, such as anti-Semitism (per the account in Matthew 21) and self-righteousness.  Appearing pious yet exploiting people applies to many people in every time and place.  Hypocrisy is never the sole province of any group of people.

1 Corinthians 12 tells us that the gifts of the Holy Spirit exist to build up the body of Christ.  Yet how often do many of us seek to use the body of Christ or a portion thereof to build up ourselves?  Is that not hypocrisy?  God occupies the center; we do not.  If we think otherwise, we are mistaken.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 15, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA, SEPTEMBER 15, 1963

THE FEAST OF CHARLES EDWARD OAKLEY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JAMES CHISHOLM, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PHILIBERT AND AICARDUS OF JUMIEGES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/09/15/devotion-for-proper-23-year-a-humes/

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Deplorables   1 comment

Then [Jesus] called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand:  it not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”

–Matthew 15:10-11, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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If Jesus were speaking today, he would include websites and social media in that statement.

I used to be a news junkie.  In the middle and late 1980s, I could recognize the names of most of the United States Senators.  In 2015 and 2016, however, I began to choose being sane over being thoroughly informed.  I also decided to tend to my spiritual life more; certain public figures were bad for it, increasing exponentially my use of profanities (in private, under my breath, of course).  I did not grow up using that kind of language routinely.

I have been monitoring the news during the last few days and becoming more horrified with each passing day.  The news stories from Charlottesville, Virginia, and now from Spain have not ceased to develop, but I have collected enough information to make a few informed and moral statements.

Racism is a sin, one that I learned by societal osmosis.  Fortunately, my parents raised me well, to reject racism.

Whenever the sin of racism raises its ugly head in my thoughts (which is to say, often), I reject it and take it to God in confessional mode.  I make no excuses for racism in myself or anyone else.  Related to that ethic, I reject all biases directed at people–on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, national origin, ethnicity, gender, et cetera.  Each of us bears the image of God, and therefore carries inherent dignity.  This is a morally consistent position, regardless of the mixed political labels attached to it.

Furthermore, I condemn almost all violence, for most of it is unnecessary and morally wrong.  I do understand defense of oneself and others, however.  Human nature is flawed and the world is imperfect, after all.  Certainly I condemn the violence of the racist thugs at Charlottesville last Saturday and the terrorists in Spain yesterday.  I do so without any hesitation and backtracking.  The political causes differ, but the problem of violent radicalization is the same.  The reality of the killing and injuring of innocent people is also consistent, as is the use of vehicles as deadly weapons.

Contrary to the unscripted words of the increasingly politically isolated inhabitant of the White House, he who has professed to care about getting facts straight then who, in the wake of the attacks in Spain, has tweeted a lie about General John J. Pershing killing Muslims with bullets dipped in the blood of pigs, there was no moral equivalence between Klansmen and neo-Nazis on one side and anti-racist protesters on the other.  One of the chants of the violent racists at Charlottesville was

The Jews will not replace us.

How could there, in Trump’s words, have been

very fine people

on both sides?  This week Trump seems to have prompted many prominent Republicans in Congress to do what I had thought impossible:  grow spines.  True, based on news reports, the Vice President, based on his public comments, seems to remain an invertebrate, but the list of prominent Republican vertebrates grows longer with each passing day.

I propose a simple test for one’s denunciations of neo-Nazis and Klansmen, the sort of people who chant

The Jews will not replace us.

The condemnation must be unequivocal and focused.  Klansmen and neo-Nazis must hear it and find in it no reason to agree with any of it or take comfort in it.  None of this describes Trump’s unscripted remarks, the ones that preceded his scripted remarks, the ones he retracted.

Trump could have averted this Charlottesville-related political firestorm easily.  All he had to do was make an unequivocal statement condemning Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and other white supremacists as well as their violence then be consistent.  But he did not do that.  He has also blamed others for the mess he made for himself.  Trump has also been more eager to condemn journalists (calling them enemies) and CEOs with social consciences (accusing them of grandstanding) than Klansmen and neo-Nazis.

Everything is wrong with this picture.

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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Adapted from this post:

https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2017/08/18/deplorables/

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Esther III: National Security   1 comment

Caiaphas

Above:  Caiaphas

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Esther 3:7-15

Psalm 138

Acts 2:22-36

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Though I live surrounded by trouble

you give me life–to my enemies’ fury!

You stretch out your right hand and save me,

Yahweh will do all things for me.

Yahweh, your faithful love endures for ever,

do not abandon what you have made.

–Psalm 138:7-8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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The story in Esther picks up at the point at which Haman persuades Ahasuerus to order genocide against the Jews.  The official reason for the decree, according to the royal decree (as contained in Chapter B, as The New American Bible labels it) is national security.  The Jews allegedly follow laws which set them at opposition to all other people and to royal decrees.  The official purpose of the planned genocide is to restore the stability of the Persian Empire.  The actual reasons, of course, are Haman’s egotism and anti-Semitism.  As Dr. Samuel Johnson stated,

Patriotism is the last resort of a scoundrel.

The reading from Acts 2 concerns the crucifixion of Jesus.  Roman imperial personnel executed Jesus, of course, but certain Jewish religious leaders were complicit in the unjust act.  As Caiaphas said in John 11:50,

You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die than to have the whole nation destroyed.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

National security is a legitimate concern, one which requires difficult decisions sometimes.  Nevertheless, genocide is never a justifiable practice.  Just as national security has its place, so does patriotism.  My point is that some scoundrels hide behind these virtues and convince other people to support them in unjust actions.  I would like to be a pacifist, but my sense of reality prevents me from doing that.  I do propose, however, that most violence is immoral and unnecessary.  This is especially true of the violence planned in Esther 3 and the crucifixion of Jesus.

There is a proper balance between individual rights and the common good.  There is also such a thing as the tyranny of the majority or of a powerful minority.  The common good, by definition, cannot justify genocide or judicial murder.  Those with power have no moral right to victimize any person or population.  And nobody has a moral right to be complicit in such a plot or effort.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/devotion-for-friday-before-proper-12-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Resisting the Darkness with Light   1 comment

Candle Flame and Reflection

Above:  Candle Flame and Reflection

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world

through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.

Help us to hear your word and obey it,

and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Daniel 3:19-30

Psalm 63:1-8

Revelation 2:8-11

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O God, you are my God, I seek you,

my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you,

as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,

beholding your power and glory.

Because your steadfast love is better than life,

my lips will praise you.

So I will bless you as long as I live;

I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,

and my mouth praises you with joyful lips

when I think of you on my bed,

and meditate on you in the watches of the night;

for you have been my help,

and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.

My soul clings to you;

your right hand upholds me.

–Psalm 63:1-8, The Book of Worship of the Church of North India (1995)

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Psalm 63:1-8 is the happy pericope for this day.  The author praises God for divine, steadfast love and provisions.  The other readings encourage readers and listeners to trust in God during extremely trying times.  That is a positive and timeless message, but each of the other pericopes presents its own difficulties.

The story from Daniel 3 is ahistorical.  That fact presents no problem for me, for I am neither a fundamentalist nor an evangelical.  No, my difficulty with the account is that the monarch threatens anyone who blasphemes YHWH with death by dismemberment.  I oppose blasphemy, but temporal punishment for it is something I refuse to support.  Besides, one person’s religious expression is another person’s idea of blasphemy.  I know of cases of (Christian) religious expression in foreign (majority Muslim) countries leading to charges of blasphemy and sometimes even executions (martyrdoms).  Religious toleration is a virtue–one much of the Bible frowns upon severely.

The pericope from Revelation 2 comes from an intra-Jewish dispute.  Non-Christian Jews were making life very difficult for Christian Jews at Smyrna.  The Christian invective of “synagogue of Satan” (verse 9) is still difficult to digest, even with knowledge of the historical contexts.  Passages such as these have become fodder for nearly two millennia of Christian Anti-Semitism, one of the great sins of the Church.

As we who call ourselves follow Jesus, may we cling to him during all times–the good, the bad, and the in-between.  And may we eschew hatred, resentment, and violence toward those who oppose us.  Christ taught us to bless our persecutors, to fight hatred with love and darkness with light.  This is difficult, of course, but it is possible by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 18, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHN STONE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR TOZER RUSSELL, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILDA OF WHITBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS

THE FEAST OF JANE ELIZA(BETH) LEESON, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/devotion-for-thursday-before-the-third-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Making a Positive Difference   1 comment

Rich Man and Lazarus Gustave Dore

Above:  The Rich Man and Lazarus, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us your gift of faith,

that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to what lies ahead,

we may follow the way of your commandments

and receive the crown of everlasting joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Obadiah 1-9 (Monday)

Obadiah 10-16 (Tuesday)

Obadiah 17-21 (Wednesday)

Psalm 26 (All Days)

Revelation 7:9-17 (Monday)

Revelation 8:1-5 (Tuesday)

Luke 16:19-31 (Wednesday)

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Give judgment for me, O Lord,

for I have walked with integrity;

I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.

–Psalm 26:1, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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Edom, according to the Book of Obadiah, is far more than the nation descended from Esau; it refers to all nations other than Israel.  Edom will fall, the text says.  Edom has trusted erroneously in its terrain and human allies.  It will fall by the hand of God, which will restore Israel and initiate the Kingdom of God on Earth.

That prophecy dates from after the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of the Kingdom of Judah in 586 B.C.E., a time when that hope seemed no less a pipe dream than it does today.  Over time Jewish reinterpretations of the identity of Edom in the Book of Obadiah came to include the Roman Empire and Christendom.  I, as a Christian, choose not to condemn any who read the prophecy as a denunciation of Christendom, given the indefensible record of persecution of Jews by professing Christians and by Christian institutions.  Such hatred and violence harmed many and brought no glory to God.

Another theme common to the pericopes is suffering.  Some suffering results from sins, but other suffering consists of the temporal consequences of obeying God.  The saints in white robes in Revelation had suffered because of their fidelity to God.  On the other hand, the deceased rich man in Luke never cared about the beggar at his gate.  Divies, as tradition calls that rich man, accepted artificial scarcity, did nothing to help even the poor man at his gate, and thought of that man with disdain.  None of the rich man’s bad attitudes changed after his unpleasant afterlife began.

Yes, the fully realized Kingdom of God remains for the future, but that reality does not absolve any of us of moral responsibility.  Unjust social and political systems and structures exist.  People created them, so people can change or destroy and replace them.  And each of us can, as opportunities present themselves, choose to support injustice by active or passive means or to oppose it.

There are reasons for supporting injustice by active or passive means.  These include:

  1. Moral blindness, due perhaps to socialization;
  2. Laziness,
  3. Apathy, perhaps borne out of hopelessness; and a related issue,
  4. Compassion fatigue.

Nobody can do everything, but most people can do something constructive to oppose some form of injustice and to address some social problem.  We humans have the capacity to leave the world better than we found it, if only we will try.  No effort or project is insignificant toward this end.  Fortunately, many people have lived according to this ethic and a host of them continue to do so.  May their numbers increase.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 3, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY THOMAS SMART, ENGLISH ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, ANGLICAN DEACONESS

THE FEAST OF IMMANUEL NITSCHMANN, GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN MINISTER AND MUSICIAN; HIS BROTHER-IN-LAW, JACOB VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN MORAVIAN BISHOP, MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND EDUCATOR; HIS SON, WILLIAM HENRY VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN BISHOP; HIS BROTHER, CARL ANTON VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND EDUCATOR; HIS DAUGHTER, LISETTE (LIZETTA) MARIA VAN VLECK MEINUNG; AND HER SISTER, AMELIA ADELAIDE VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN CENNICK, BRITISH MORAVIAN EVANGELIST AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-23-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Divine Faithfulness, Judgment, and Mercy   1 comment

Christ and the Woman Taken In Adultery

Above:  Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (Guercino), 1621

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

 Loving God, by tender words and covenant promise

you have joined us to yourself forever,

and you invite us to respond to your love with faithfulness.

By your Spirit may we live with you and with one another

in justice, mercy, and joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 16:1-14 (Thursday)

Ezekiel 16:44-52 (Friday)

Ezekiel 16:53-63 (Saturday)

Psalm 103:1-13, 22 (All Days)

Romans 3:1-8 (Thursday)

2 Peter 1:1-11 (Friday)

John 7:53-8:11 (Saturday)

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The LORD is full of compassion and mercy,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

The LORD will not always accuse us

nor remain angry forever.

The LORD has not dealt with us according to our sins,

nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

–Psalm 103:8-10, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Yet we read elsewhere:

Because you did not remember the days of your youth, but infuriated Me with all those things, I will pay you back for your conduct–declares the LORD God.

–Ezekiel 16:43, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

That statement is consistent with Ezekiel’s position that God deals with each person according to his or her actions, in other words, that God does not punish anybody for the sin of an ancestor.

The related themes of judgment and mercy reside at the heart of the complex of pericopes for these days.

Ezekiel 16 weaves a metaphorical narrative regarding Jerusalem and its people.  God showered extravagant mercy upon them, but they rebelled against God instead.  They will face the consequences of their actions, but God will renew the covenant and forgive them.  That covenant requires the people to remember the mighty and faithful works of God, to remember human sins, and to respond to God faithfully.  Caring for the less fortunate constitutes part of responding to God faithfully.  And the only acceptable boast is in God’s grace.

Ezekiel 16 meshes well with Romans 3:1-8, a text one ought never to twist into Anti-Semitism.  (I condemn all -isms, phobias, and other attitudes which denigrate any of my fellow human beings.)  God’s judgment is just, St. Paul the Apostle insists, and no amount of human faithfulness can nullify the faithfulness of God.  Furthermore, the Apostle writes, the Jews might have the Law of Moses, but Gentiles can fulfill it also, for they can perceive the commandments of God too.  Thus, according to this line of reasoning, God has placed Jews and Gentiles on a level playing field, and human actions, no matter how pious they are, can function as protective talismans against the consequences of sins.  Faith, the Apostle understood, is inherently active, hence his theology of faith, works, and justification by the former, not the latter.  Thus, if good works flow from faith as a matter of course (unlike as in the Letter of James, due to a different definition of faith there, hence that text’s theology of justification by works), we have no right to boast of our good deeds because they cannot save us from judgment.  They are, as Lutheran confessions of faith state, laudable yet insufficient for salvation.  Only grace can save us.  And grace comes from God.

Moving along, we arrive at 2 Peter 1:1-11.  The text reminds us that we depend on the faithfulness of God to divine promises.  Thus our only boasts should be in God.  And grace is free for us (but not for God; ask Jesus) yet not cheap.  It requires much of those of us who receive it.  Grace mandates ethical, compassionate living.  Perceived doctrinal purity alone is insufficient, for orthodoxy and orthopraxy should be like two sides of the same coin.  (I sound like the Letter of James now.  Actually, St. Paul and the author of the Letter of James arrived at the same conclusion, just with different definitions of faith.  Their two positions differ only on a semantic level.)  I recall the narrative of an African-American slave who, with help, escaped to freedom in Canada in the 1800s.  His master, a Simon Legree-kind of person, was a Baptist deacon.  The former slave wrote that the deacon died and that he (the former slave) did not know if the deacon went to Heaven or to Hell.  The freedman did know, however, that he did not want to go to the same destination as the deacon.

John 7:53-8:11 is a floating pericope of Synoptic origin which landed in the Johannine Gospel.  The pericope fits well between 7:52 and 8:12, but one can skip over it and follow the original Johannine narrative without missing a beat.  The scribes and Pharisees in question have used the woman to set a trap for Jesus.  They do not even care that they have allowed the man to get away.  (One cannot commit adultery alone.)  Jesus, being perceptive, reverses the trap  and reminds them subtly that, if she dies for having committed adultery, the Law of Moses states that they should die also for their related offense.  Thus they are not without sin in this case and have no right to cast the first stone.  Her accusers leave, and Jesus forgives the woman.

The Law, St. Paul the Apostle reminds us, convicts us of our sins by establishing rules and categories.  The Law calls for judgment and provides guidelines (often culturally and historically specific applications of timeless and universal principles) for ethical living.  Obeying the Law can be positive, but it cannot deliver us from the consequences of our sins.  Only God can do that.  Fortunately, God seems to be more merciful than many human beings much of the time.  I recognize that both judgment and mercy exist relative to God.  I also notice that God is more prone to mercy in some biblical texts and more inclined toward judgment in others.  The biblical authors were people, so some of these texts include human projections onto the nature of God.  That is something I take as a given.  Something else I take as a given is that we mere mortals cannot grasp the entirety of the nature of God.  Thus some of what we say and write about God will be wrong, but much will be correct.  Thus theological humility is appropriate.  As for me, I hope that God is at least as merciful as Jesus in John 7:53-8:11 and that the author of Psalm 103:8-10 is closer to the truth than the author of Ezekiel 16:43.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 1, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF DANIEL MARCH, SR., U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST AND PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, POET, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAXIMILLIAN OF TREVESTE, ROMAN CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEOPHANES THE CHRONICLER, DEFENDER OF ICONS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-3-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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