Archive for the ‘Astarte’ Tag

Idolatry Among Us   1 comment

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Above:  Astarte (1902), by John Singer Sargent

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-133676

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you revealed the incarnation

of your Son by the brilliant shining of a star.

Shine the light of your justice always in our hearts and over all lands,

and accept our lives as the treasure we offer in your praise and for your service,

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 21

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The Assigned Readings:

Micah 5:2-9 (Protestant Versification)/Micah 5:1-8 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Versification)

Psalm 72

Luke 13:31-35

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Some Related Posts:

Luke 13:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/second-sunday-in-lent-year-c/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/devotion-for-the-thirty-fourth-and-thirty-fifth-days-of-easter-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/week-of-proper-25-thursday-year-1/

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Blessed are you, O Lord our God:

for you alone do marvellous things.

Blessed be your glorious name for ever:

let the whole earth be filled

with your glory.  Amen.  Amen.

–Psalm 72:19-20, A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)

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The reading from Luke 13 prompts me to think of the Classic Theory of the Atonement, a.k.a. the Conquest of Satan and Christus Victor.  This interpretation dates to early Christianity, for Origen, St. Irenaeus, and St. Justin Martyr argued for it.  I have read more recent iterations of it in the works of Gustav Aulen and N. T. Wright.  As St. Irenaeus (died 202 C.E.) wrote:

The Word of God was made flesh in order that He might destroy death and bring men to life, for we were tied and bound in sin, we were born in sin and live under the dominion of death.

–Quoted in Linwood Urban, A Short History of Christian Thought, Revised and Expanded Edition (New York, NY:  Oxford University Press, 1995), page 109

Perfidious men–men, not people generically (I like to use gendered language precisely)–plotted to kill Jesus.  They succeeded in that goal.  Yet our Lord and Savior did not remain dead for long.  So those perfidious men failed ultimately.

God wins ultimately, despite our best human attempts to thwart that result.  Such is the best definition of the sovereignty of God I can muster.

Micah 5:1-8/5:2-9 (depending on the versification in the translation one reads) sounds reassuring for the Hebrew nation in the late eighth century B.C.E.-early seventh century B.C.E., the timeframe for Isaiah 1-39.  Woe be unto any Assyrian invaders, it says.  If one continues to read, however, one discovers that the Assyrians are not the only ones who should quake in fear of divine retribution, which will fall also on the homefront as well:

In anger and fury I shall wreak vengeance

on the nations who disobey me.

–Micah 5:15, The Revised English Bible

The disobedience in Micah 5 took various forms, including idolatry.

Idols range from false deities to anything which anyone lets stand between him or her and God.  I live in Athens, Georgia, a football-mad town.  Often I note the tone of reverence regarding University of Georgia athletics in the local press.  And frequently have I heard sports fans liken sports to religion.  It is one for many of them.  And, ironically, the Bible functions as an idol for many honest seekers of God.  The Scriptures are supposed to be as icons, through which people see God, but their function varies according to the user thereof.

Religion is a basic human need.  Even many militant fundamentalist Atheists possess the same irritating zeal as do many fundamentalists of theistic varieties.  I stand in the middle, rejecting both excessive skepticism and misplaced certainty, overboard materialism and rationality with the haunting fear that having sex standing up will lead to (gasp!) dancing.  So I reject idols on either side of my position while know that I need to examine my own position for the presence of idols, as abstract as they might be.

Perhaps the greatest spiritual challenge is to identify and reject all idols, which do not seem as what they are to us because the most basic assumptions people carry do not look like assumptions to us.  Thus we justify ourselves to ourselves while we stand in serious error.  Sometimes our idols and false assumptions, combined with fears, lead us commit violence–frequently in the name of God or an imagined deity, perhaps understood as being loving.

We are really messed up.  Fortunately, there is abundant grace available to us.  But can we recognize that if idolatry blinds us spiritually?

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KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 2, 2013 COMMON ERA

LABOR DAY (U.S.A.)

THE FEAST OF HANNAH, MOTHER OF SAMUEL

THE FEAST OF DAVID CHARLES, WELSH CALVINISTIC METHODIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF NEW GUINEA

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIAM OF ROSKILDE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/devotion-for-january-9-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Deuteronomy and Matthew, Part XIII: Loyalty and Identity   1 comment

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Above:  Landscape with the Parable of the Sower, by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

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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 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 13:1-18 (October 15–Protestant Versification)

Deuteronomy 13:2-19 (October 15–Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Versification)

Deuteronomy 14:1-2, 22-23; 14:28-15:15 (October 16)

Deuteronomy 15:19-16:22 (October 17)

Psalm 123 (Morning–October 15)

Psalm 15 (Morning–October 16)

Psalm 36 (Morning–October 17)

Psalms 30 and 86 (Evening–October 15)

Psalms 48 and 4 (Evening–October 16)

Psalms 80 and 27 (Evening–October 17)

Matthew 13:1-23 (October 15)

Matthew 13:24-43 (October 16)

Matthew 13:44-58 (October 17)

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Some Related Posts:

Deuteronomy 15:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/proper-25-year-b/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/devotion-for-september-20-and-21-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Matthew 13:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/25/proper-10-year-a/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/proper-11-year-a/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/week-of-proper-11-wednesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/week-of-proper-11-thursday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/week-of-proper-11-friday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/week-of-proper-11-saturday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/proper-12-year-a/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/week-of-proper-12-monday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/week-of-proper-12-tuesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/week-of-proper-12-wednesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/week-of-proper-12-thursday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/week-of-proper-12-friday-year-1/

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Here is a summary of the contents of Deuteronomy 13:1-16:22:

  1. Execute any false prophet or dream-diviner.  (13:1-6/2-7)
  2. Execute anyone who entices another person to commit idolatry.  (13:6-11/7-12)
  3. Execute the inhabitants of idolatrous towns, burn those towns, and destroy all spoil.  Do not rebuild at any of those sites.  (13:12-18/13-19)
  4. Avoid mourning rituals associated with pagan peoples.  (14:1-2)
  5. Eat only ritually clean foods.  (14:3-21)
  6. Pay a tenth of your crops and livestock to God.  (14:22-26)
  7. Provide for the needy and the Levites.  (14:27-29)
  8. Provide debts and free slaves every seventh year.  (15:1-18)
  9. Sacrifice all male firstlings born into your flock to God, assuming that it is a proper physical specimen.  (15:19-23)
  10. Keep a detailed festival calendar and the accompanying instructions.  (16:1-17)
  11. Appoint magistrates who will govern honestly and justly, taking no bribes.  (16:18-20)
  12. Erect no posts, as in honor to Astarte.  (16:21-22)

I have mixed feelings about that material.  On one hand, I approve of the social justice imperative parts of it.  I find even the acceptance of any form of slavery offensive and the command to execute people intolerable.  I know that one theme of the Law of Moses is absolute loyalty to God, so idolatry equaled treason, but some commands seem barbaric to me.  So far as dietary laws are concerned, I note that I have never cared about them.  Proper refrigeration negates some health concerns, as does thorough cooking.  One analysis of the forbidden list says that those animals did not fit nearly into certain categories.  Assuming that the analysis is correct, what was the problem?  Besides, I like to eat ham and intend to continue to do so.

In Matthew 13 we read a series of mostly agricultural parables:  the sower and the seed, the darnel and the mustard seed, the treasure in the field, the merchant and the pearls, and the fish of mixed quality.  And, at the end of the chapter, people in Nazareth lack faith him.  Perhaps they know too much to realize even more.

From those parables I glean certain lessons:

  1. One should remain focused on God, not allowing anything or anyone to function as a distraction.
  2. The good and the bad will grow up together and come mixed together.  God will sort everything into the correct categories at the right time.  That task does not fall to us, mere mortals.
  3. Nothing is more important than seeking, finding, and keeping the Kingdom of God.

I detect much thematic overlap between that material and Deuteronomy 13:1-16:22, with the notable absence of commands about when to execute or destroy.  Yes, Matthew is more riveting reading than Deuteronomy.

I read the Law of Moses as a Gentile, specifically an Episcopalian who grew up a United Methodist.  The Law was like a household servant who raised children, St. Paul the Apostle tells us.  Now that Christ has arrived on the scene, I have only two commandments, not over 600.  So, as long as I am growing via grace into loving God fully and my neighbor as myself, that ham sandwich should not bother my conscience.  And I refuse to execute anyone, for I serve an executed and resurrected Lord and Savior.  To him I am loyal.  In him, not a law code, do I find my identity.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 7, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMITIAN OF HUY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP

THE FEAST OF HARRIET STARR CANNON, COFOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITYN OF SAINT MARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROSE VENERINI, FOUNDER OF THE VENERINI SISTERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEODARD OF NARBONNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP; AND SAINTS JUSTUS AND PASTOR, MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/devotion-for-october-15-16-and-17-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Idolatry, Part I   3 comments

Above:  Baal

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Judges 2:11-19 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

And the Israelites did what was offensive to the LORD.  They worshiped the Baalim and forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt.  They followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples around them, and bowed down to them; they provoked the LORD.  They forsook the LORD and worshiped Baal and the Ashtaroth.  Then the LORD was incensed at Israel, and He handed them over to foes who plundered them  He surrendered them to their enemies on all sides, and they could no longer hold their own against their enemies.  In all their campaigns, the hand of the LORD was against them to their undoing, as the LORD had declared and as the LORD had sworn to them; and they were in great distress.  Then the LORD raised up chieftains who delivered them from those who plundered them.  But they did not heed their chieftains either; they went astray after other gods and bowed down to them.  They were quick to turn aside from the way their fathers had followed in obedience to the commandments of the LORD; they did not do right.  When the LORD raised up chieftains for them, the LORD would be with the chieftain and would save them from their enemies during the chieftain’s lifetime; for the LORD would be moved to pity by their moanings because of those who oppressed and crushed them.  But when the chieftain died, they would again act basely, even more than the preceding generation–following other gods, worshiping them, and bowing down to them; they omitted none of their practices and stubborn ways.

Psalm 51:1-10 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;

in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness

and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you only have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight.

5 And so you are justified when you speak

and upright in your judgment.

Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth,

a sinner from my mother’s womb.

7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me,

and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;

wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

Make me hear of joy and gladness,

that the body you have broken may rejoice.

10 Hide your face from my sins

and blot out all my iniquities.

Matthew 19:16-22 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then it happened that a man came up  to him and said,

Master, what good thing must I do to secure eternal life?

Jesus answered him,

I wonder why you ask me what is good?  Only One is good.  But if you want to enter that life you must keep the commandments.

He asked,

Which ones?

Jesus replied,

Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother; and Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

The young man replied,

I have carefully kept all these.  What is still missing in my life?

Then Jesus told him,

If you want to be perfect, go now and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor–you will have riches in Heaven.  The come and follow me!

When the young man heard that he turned away crestfallen, for he was very wealthy.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Old habits are hard to break, even when doing so is for the best.  One way of breaking an old and bad habit, such as committing idolatry or relying on one’s own wealth, not God, is developing a new, good habit, such as relying on God alone.  This strategy can prove challenging, however.  None of these facts are excuses, just statements of reality.

Fortunately, we do not have to rely on our own power to make these essential changes.  Grace is available to assist us.  But we must cooperate with God.

Let us consider bad habit #1:  idolatry.  Monotheism is a recent development in human religion, in the grand scheme of history.  In the time in which the events of the Book of Judges are set, most people in that region were polytheists.  Deities were localized, specialized, and tied to nature.  And some members of one pantheon resembled those of other pantheons.  Hence Astarte, Ishtar, and Aphrodite were essentially the same character, a fertility goddess.   So, for the Israelites settled in Canaan, the local religious culture was polytheistic.  And many, if not most, of them, blended into it.

Local religious cultures can prove quite powerful.   One might not realize this until one lives as a member of a religious minority in a place.  The person who is different is set apart.  If one is especially susceptible to peer pressure, this can be difficult to maintain.  I am convinced that the pressure to conform within a culture or subculture is generally negative, for it discourages healthy differences.  (I write as one who has dealt with these issues as a liberal United Methodist then more leftist Episcopalian in some very fundamentalist, Southern Baptist-dominated southern Georgia towns and communities.  Fortunately, I have nurtured the habit of resisting peer pressure.)

But the Israelites were the chosen people of God.  Therefore they had great responsibilities to function as a light to the Gentiles.  A bright light stands out in the darkness.  It cannot do its job if it ignores its purpose.

Wealth can be as much of an idol as Baal or Astarte.  All of them distract one from God.  It is upon God alone that one ought to lean and depend spiritually.  Anything else–whether a habit, a tangible object, a collection of said items, money (which is imaginary and psychological, although reified), or a fictitious deity–is a poor substitute.  The wealthy man in the story from Matthew tried to do well, and he succeeded outwardly.  He had mastered what the Lutheran confessions of faith call civil righteousness.  But, as the Lutheran confessions tell us, civic righteousness cannot save us from sin, from ourselves.  Only God can do that.  And the rich young man had a profound psychological attachment to his wealth.

Whatever we are attached to in lieu of God must cease to distract us from God.  For many people of various economic statuses this is not money.  So it will be something else.  It is sports for some people and the Bible itself for others. Anything (other than God) can be an idol if one treats it as that.  So the challenge for you and for me is to identify our idol or idols then to abandon our idolatry forever.  May we do so sooner rather than later.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 13, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AQUILA, PRISCILLA, AND APOLLOS, COWORKERS OF THE APOSTLE PAUL

THE FEAST OF ABSALOM JONES, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF ANDREAS KATSULAS, ACTOR

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on February 13, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/week-of-proper-15-monday-year-1/

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True Life   1 comment

Above:  No Right Turn Sign (U.S.A.)

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Deuteronomy 4:32-40 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

Because ask of the earliest days that were before you, from the day that God created a human on the earth, and from one end of the skies to the other end of the skies:  has there been anything like this great thing?  or has anything like it been heard of?  Has a people heard God’s voice speaking from inside a fire the way you heard–and lived?  Or has God put it to the test, to come to take for Himself a people from among people with tests, with signs, and with wonders and with war and with a strong hand and with and outstretched arm and with great fears like everything that YHWH, your God, has done for you in Egypt before your eyes?  You have been shown in order to know that YHWH:  He is God.  There is no other outside of Him.  From the skies He had you hear His voice in order to discipline you, and on the earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words from inside the fire.  And because He loved your fathers He chose their seed after them, so He brought you out in front of Him from Egypt by His great power, to dispossess bigger and more powerful nations than you in front of you, to bring you, to give you their land as a legacy as it is today.  And you shall know today and store it in in your heart from YHWH:  He is God in the skies above and on earth below.  And you shall observe His laws and His commandments that I command you today so it will be good for you and for your children after you, and so that you’ll extend days on the land that YHWH, your God, is giving you forever.

Psalm 105:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Give thanks to the LORD and call upon his Name;

make known his deeds among the peoples.

Sing to him, sing praises to him,

and speak of all his marvelous works.

3 Glory in his holy Name;

let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

Search for the LORD and his strength;

continually seek his face.

Remember the marvels he has done,

his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,

6 O offspring of Abraham his servant,

O children of Jacob his chosen.

Matthew 16:24-28 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then Jesus said to his disciples,

If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps he must give up all right to himself, take up his cross and follow me.  For the man who wants to save his life will lose it; but the man who loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what good is it for a man to gain the whole world at the price of his real life?  What could a man offer to buy back that life once he has lost it?

For the Son of Man will come in the glory of his Father and in the company of his angels and then he will repay every man for what he has done.  Believe me, there are some standing here today who will know nothing of death till they have seen the Son of Man coming as king.

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The Collect:

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The proper direction in life comes from listening closely to God.  Living successfully is doing so in God, as God directs us.  For what has God called us, specifically?  Doing that is the road to success.  So what is popular, what others expect of us, what our culturally-defined roles might be, and what we want for ourselves might lead away from our proper destination.

Consider the words of Jesus.  A person who seeks to save his or her life will lose it, and one who loses it will gain it.  This runs contrary to conventional wisdom, does it not?  But consider the source.  Jesus was frequently on the outs with authority figures, and the Roman Empire executed him as an insurrectionist.  The Imperium subjected him to crucifixion, a method reserved for those it considered the worst of the worst.  But who would argue with a straight face that Jesus was a failure?  Are we not still speaking of him after nearly 2,000 years?

(An Aside:  What about the end of the excerpt from Matthew?  By the time of the writing of the Gospel of Matthew, probably circa 85 C.E., Christianity was a vital young religion.  Certainly many people had “seen the Son of Man coming in his kingdom,” as William Barclay translates that verse.  That is, the Kingdom of God, which Jesus inaugurated, was spreading out across the world.  In the canonical gospels Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God in the present tense.  Did it go away after the Ascension?  I think not.)

The passage from Deuteronomy is explicitly monotheistic.  If Professor Richard Elliott Friedman is correct in his insistence that this passage comes from the 600s B.C.E. at the latest, a strong monotheistic strain existed in Judaism prior to the return from Babylonian Exile (500s B.C.E.).  This is old news.  Here is some more old news:  Many Jews did not practice monotheism until after the return from the Babylonian Exile.  Archaeology and the witness of the Hebrew prophets affirm this statement.  Some ancient places of worship in Israel have survived, for archaeologists have excavated many of them.  At some of these sites the archaeologists found two altars–one for YHWH and the other for Astarte, his presumed wife.

Yet the reading from Deuteronomy stands as a defense of worshiping YHWH alone–without Astarte.  Atheism was extremely rare in that part of the world in the 600s-400s BCE, and monotheism was scarce, too.  Polytheism prevailed, so resisting it was difficult for many.  Yet that is what the Deuteronomist (or at least one Deuteronomist), inserting words into the mouth of Moses, says they must do.  This principle holds true today.  You might not be a polytheist, but what are your idols, those things distracting you from God?  Their identities might surprise you.

The rat race is bad for the rats, and keeping up with the Joneses is no good, either.  Seeking status is pursuing something shallow.  This day’s readings say that we must act contrary to all these standards.  Each of us needs to focus on the one God, take up our cross, and follow Jesus–perhaps at the cost of physical life itself.  Maybe the price will slightly less steep, but it will cost us something we value.  But what we receive in return will be of infinitely greater value.

Most of Christ’s Apostles died violently as martyrs.  St. Paul suffered greatly for the Christian faith after his conversion.  During the succeeding centuries countless numbers of Christians have suffered for their faith.  And martyrdom continues into the present day.  “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus says.  This is the path to life in God, whatever form the cross takes.  For Dietrich Bonhoeffer it was a noose.  For others it is a destroyed reputation or a prison sentence or both.  Members of an angry mob killed St. Josaphat Kuntsevych with bullets and an ax.  All these are terrible and unjust, but the Kingdom of God is still here, after nearly two thousand years.  It is spread out across the earth, and many of us do not see it.  But those who take up their crosses point to it, and no temporal power can overcome it.

May we follow and love the God who cares for us and guides us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 27, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, BISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on January 27, 2011 

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/week-of-proper-13-friday-year-1/

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