Archive for the ‘Beatitudes’ Tag

Good Religion and Bad Religion, Part II   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART II

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James 1:1-27

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This is pure religion, and undefiled before our God and Father, to look after orphans and widows in their affliction, and ever to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

–James 1:27, Helen Barrett Montgomery, Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924)

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That verse concludes the first chapter and sets up the second chapter.  Textual context is crucial.  I will work my way through the first chapter.

  1. Verse 1 names the author as “James,” presumably St. James of Jerusalem (d. 62 C.E.).  This is a pseudonymonous ascription, a common practice in Biblical times.
  2. There is wordplay in the original Greek text in verses 1 and 2.  Verse 1 reads, in part, “Greetings,” literally, “Be joyful,” or “Rejoice.”  Verse 2 reads, in part, “Regard it as a complete joy.”
  3. Verse 1 identifies the audience as Jewish diaspora Christians.
  4. Rejoicing in “various trials” (verses 2-12) requires grace, which suffices.
  5. The theme of attitudes toward wealth and status debuts in verse 9.  It recurs later in the first chapter and the book.
  6. During trials, remain anchored in God (verse 6) for stability.
  7. God does not tempt us (verses 13-18).  Times of trial, therefore, are not temptations God has sent.
  8. Unrighteous anger (as opposed to righteous anger) is dangerous to oneself and others.  It also belies true religion.  The Law of Love works against unrighteous anger.  Grace liberates us to be our best possible selves in God (verses 19-25).
  9. The use of speech and writing manifests both positive and negative tendencies.  Taming one’s words, whether spoken or written, is essential (verse 26).  Ergo, true religion is to care for the vulnerable and to reject secular standards of success and status, grounded in power and wealth.

More about language and the control of it will ensue in a subsequent chapter.

Impious deeds must not belie pious words.  In Jewish terms, God is like what one has done and does.  Likewise, we mere mortals are like what we have done to the extent that we continue to commit those deeds.

I, as a student of history, understand that I cannot always determine the motivation of a group or an individual.  I can, however, point to what a group or an individual did, said, did not say, and did not do.  That information frequently leads to a moral evaluation, and renders the lack of information about motivation irrelevant.

Political-social context is crucial.  Commentaries inform me that the Epistle of James targeted religious prophets of doom–political agitators who imagined they could hasten God’s righteous judgment.  One may understand why such people were perilous when the Church was young and small, albeit growing.  One may grasp that such agitators attracted unwelcome imperial attention.  The Epistle of James favors constructive, counter-cultural morality (as in the Beatitudes), not agitation that threatened to bring the imperium down upon the Church.

I, as a student of history, know that religious communities who have practiced James 1:27 have frequently incurred the wrath of governments and the scorn of societies, however.  I think immediately of the Quakers, the Amish, the Mennonites, and the Hutterites, for example.  Governments often react badly when they go to war, and when pacifistic dissenters refuse to cooperate.

James 1:27 also cautions against becoming enmeshed in unholy intrigues.  This theme unfolds in subsequent chapters, too.

How do you, O reader, think of “the world”?  Do you identify it as Satan’s domain?  Or do you think of it as your neighborhood, for which you are partially responsible?  God–in both the Old and New Testaments–mandates that the people of God transform the world, not give up on it and seek to flee from it.  The people of God have divine marching orders to be a light to the nations and to function as salt.  Confronting evil is part of that mandate.  Telling the truth is essential.  Consult the record of the prophets and Jesus, O reader.

Offering a positive alternative is also crucial.

Mutuality informed the Law of Moses, the examples of the Hebrew prophets, the lived and uttered teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and the culturally-specific writings of the New Testament.  These sages knew what many moderns never learned or have forgotten–that whatever one does to others, one does to oneself.  They grasped that human beings are responsible to and for each other, under God.  These sages understood the importance of orthopraxy, grounded in an inseparable from orthodoxy.

Reading these ancient texts in historical, cultural, and political contexts tells us what they originally meant.  Then we can properly apply these texts to our contemporary situations.

I write these words during the COVID-19 pandemic.  I witness the economic disparities the pandemic has made worse.  I see needless suffering.  I notice that many people have fallen though the cracks in the social safety net.  I witness cynical, opportunistic, fearful, and selfish people refusing to do what is necessary and proper to take care of each other, especially those too young to get vaccinated.  I also notice much shameful behavior (such as I have described in this paragraph) coming from self-identified Christians.

Lord Jesus, save me from your followers!

Timeless principles may seem vague.  This is why the Bible includes many culturally-specific examples of them.  In that spirit, I offer a new, updated version of James 1:27, just for these times:

Pure, undefiled religion, in the eyes of God our Father, during this pandemic, is this:  getting vaccinated when eligible (unless one has a legitimate medical reason not to do so), wearing masks, practicing social distancing, coming to the help of the elderly, the young, and those with compromised immune systems.  It is living in accordance with the Golden Rule and the Lukan Beatitudes.

How is that for a sound and a radical standard?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 20, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRI NOUWEN, DUTCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH KENNY, AUSTRALIAN NURSE AND MEDICAL PIONEER

THE FEAST OF JOHN COLERIDGE PATTESON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF MELANESIA, AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS, 1871

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIE THERESE OF SAINT JOSEPH, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE CARMELITE SISTERS OF THE DIVINE HEART OF JESUS

THE FEAST OF NELSON TROUT, FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN BISHOP

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The Vibes of Translations: A Case Study Invoking John 1:14a   Leave a comment

Above:  The Hebrew Tabernacle in the Wilderness

Image in the Public Domain

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A Biblical translation has its vibe.

Years ago, at the Episcopal Center at The University of Georgia, I was participating in a Bible study one night.  The passage was the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).  The study method was the African Bible study, by which the group heard the same passage read aloud three times, each time in a different version, and asked a different question each time.  After Carrie read from The Living Bible (New Testament, 1969), all of us present sang,

I’d like to teach the world to sing

in perfect harmony.

I’d like to buy the world a Coke

and keep it company.

The Living Bible is of its time.  That is the most polite evaluation I can offer of it.  My opinion of The Living Bible is so low as to be subterranean.  If I were to represent my opinion of that version numerically, I would use a negative number on a scale.  But I would still rate The Living Bible higher than The Message.

To my main point now….

The Prologue (1:1-18) of the Gospel of John is one of the most profound sections in the Bible.  That Prologue is theologically rich, like the rest of that Gospel.  And John 1:1-18 is one of the portions of scripture I read when evaluating a translation.  If a translation botches the Prologue to the Gospel of John, I read no more in that version.  Literary quality and theological subtlety are standards I apply to that evaluation.

The Revised Standard Version (New Testament, 1946; plus Old Testament, 1952; Second Edition, 1971) provides the standard English translation of John 1:14a:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth….

Two translation choices stand out in my mind.  First, “dwelt” is literal from the Greek, according to commentaries I have read.  Second, the Greek text reads, literally, “in,” not “among.”

Other versions offer similar readings.  For example, The Revised English Bible (1989) tells us:

So the Word became flesh; he made his home among us,….

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) reads:

And the Word became flesh

and made his dwelling among us,….

And The New Jerusalem Bible (1985) tells us:

The Word became flesh,

he lived among us,….

Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861-1934) hit the proverbial nail on the head in her Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924):

And the Word became flesh and tented with us…

William Barclay (1907-1978) also translated John 1:14a well:

So the word of God became a person, and took up his abode in our being….

Barclay picked up on the literal meaning of a particular Greek word meaning “in,” not “among.”  He also tied John 1:14a to the theme of indwelling that runs throughout the Fourth Gospel.  Jesus dwelt in YHWH, YHWH dwelt in Jesus, and followers of Jesus dwelt in him, and, therefore, in YHWH.

The reference to dwelling or tenting is to the tent of the Tabernacle, as in Exodus 25:8d.  Literally, in John 1:14, the Logos of God pitched a tent.   The Greek verb meaning “to tent” resembles the Hebrew root for “to dwell” and the Hebrew word from which the noun shekinah (divine presence) derives.

The meaning pertains to Realized Eschatology in the Johannine Gospel:  God was fully present among human beings in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Father Raymond E. Brown‘s extensive and extremely detailed and verbose commentary (1966) on the Gospel of John makes the connection between John 1:14 and Revelation 21:3:

“Behold the dwelling of God is with men….”

Revised Standard Version

According to Father Brown:

Thus, in dwelling among men, the Word anticipates the divine presence which according to Revelation will be visible to men in the last days.

The Gospel According to John (I-XII) (1966), 33

However extremely few merits Eugene Peterson’s The Message (2002) may have, literary grace is not one of them.  Consider this rendering of John 1:14a, O reader:

The Word became flesh and blood

and moved into the neighborhood.

Now I return to the question of the vibe of a translation.  “…moved into the neighborhood,” in my North American context, carries a certain connotation.  I hear that phrasing and think of a scenario in which a prosperous, professional Latino or African-American family has moved into a conservative White suburb, and the White bigots have started fretting about the possibility of declining property values.  Peterson’s translation of John 1:14a leads my mind far away from what is really happening in that verse in the Fourth Gospel.  The unfortunate wording in The Message makes me think of White upper-class bigots bemoaning,

“There goes the neighborhood!”

Furthermore, Peterson’s translation of John 1:14a functions as another example of my main criticism of that version:  It commits the sin of being kitschy.  No Biblical translation should be kitschy.

I have decided to read Helen Barrett Montgomery’s Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924).  She had the Word pitching a tent, consistent with the meaning of the Greek text.  I like the vibe of her translation.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 22, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HANS SCHOLL, SOPHIE SCHOLL, AND CHRISTOPH PROBST, ANTI-NAZI MARTYRS AT MUNICH, GERMANY, 1943

THE FEAST OF BERNHARDT SEVERIN INGEMANN, DANISH LUTHERAN AUTHOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD HOPPER, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGARET OF CORTONA, PENITENT AND FOUNDRESS OF THE POOR ONES

THE FEAST OF SAINT PRAETEXTATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF ROUEN

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The Kingdom of Heaven   Leave a comment

Above:  Lion with Lamb

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Fourth Sunday after Trinity, 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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Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that the course of this world

may be so peaceably ordered by thy governance,

that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 190

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Isaiah 65:17-19, 24, 25

Psalms 20 and 21:1-7

Galatians 3:1-9

Matthew 5:7-12

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Isaiah 65 comes from Third Isaiah.  The text’s immediate context is the disllusionment of exiles who returned to their ancestral homeland and found a heap, not a paradise.  Isaiah 65 predicts the messianic age, when God will transform society and creation itself.  The familiar text, with the image of the wolf and the lamb grazing together, seems so wonderful as to be unrealistic, from a particular perspective.  Isaiah 65’s vision of an ideal world is consistent with the Kingdom of Heaven (the fully-realized Kingdom of God on earth) in Matthew.  The Beatitudes describe the new, renewed social order.

We still wait for that time.  Psalms 20 and 21 reflect the context of combat, inconsistent with the Kingdom of Heaven.  Combat remains a reality, of course.  And the foolishness of the Galatians has contemporary parallels.  We live in a broken world.  Social media amplify our brokenness and increase the number of opportunities to reveal our cruelty, stupidity, shallowness, and ignorance for many to witness.  The only things new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9) are circumstances.

I long for the day when the wolf and the lamb will graze together, the lion will eat straw like the ox, and the serpent will eat soil.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 15, 2020 COMMON ERA

WEDNESDAY IN EASTER WEEK

THE FEAST OF SAINT OLGA OF KIEV, REGENT OF KIEVAN RUSSIA; SAINT ADALBERT OF MAGDEBURG, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT ADALBERT OF PRAGUE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF MARTYR, 997; AND SAINTS BENEDICT AND GAUDENTIUS OF POMERANIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 997

THE FEAST OF SAINTS DAMIEN AND MARIANNE OF MOLOKAI, WORKERS AMONG LEPERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT FLAVIA DOMITILLA, ROMAN CATHOLIC NOBLEWOMAN; AND SAINTS MARO, EUTYCHES, AND VICTORINUS OF ROME, PRIESTS AND MARTYS, CIRCA 99

THE FEAST OF SAINT HUNNA OF ALSACE, THE “HOLY WASHERWOMAN”

THE FEAST OF LUCY CRAFT LANEY, AFRICAN-AMERICAN PRESBYTERIAN EDUCATOR AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST

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Jesus and the Lost   1 comment

Above:  The Lost Piece of Silver,by John Everett Millais

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 12:1-19

Psalm 148

1 Thessalonians 3:1-4:2

Luke 15:1-10

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The Gospel of Luke establishes the context for the Parables of the Lost Sheep/Good Shepherd and the Lost Coin:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

–Luke 15:1-2, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

Do you, O reader, identify with the Pharisees and scribes or with the tax collectors and sinners in that passage?  Should not anyone be glad that Jesus was spending time in the company of those who knew they needed him?  The best translation of the first beatitude (Matthew 5:3) is not,

Blessed are the poor in spirit…,

but

Blessed are those who know their need for God….

God desires us, fortunately for us.

Psalm 148 invites all of creation to praise God.  The text never qualifies that principle or says, “unless….”  Indeed, times of affliction (as in the readings from Acts and 1 Thessalonians) are times to praise God.

If that principle confused you, O reader, I understand your confusion.  Praising God in times of joy and plenty is relatively easy.  Yet difficult times cast the blessings of God in stark contrast to what surrounds them.  Blessings become easier to recognize.  Nevertheless, one is in difficult circumstances.  Anxiety, uncertainty, and grief erect high walls to praising God.  Yet God is with us in our doldrums.  God seeks us, for we are valuable because God says we are.

That is a reason to rejoice and to praise God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

WEDNESDAY IN HOLY WEEK

THE FEAST OF HENRY MELCHIOR MUHLENBERG, PATRIARCH OF AMERICAN LUTHERANISM; HIS GREAT-GRANDSON, WILLIAM AUGUSTUS MUHLENBERG, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGICAL PIONEER; AND HIS COLLEAGUE, ANNE AYRES, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERHOOD OF THE HOLY COMMUNION

THE FEAST OF SAINT DIONYSIUS OF CORINTH, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT HUGH OF ROUEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP, ABBOT, AND MONK

THE FEAST OF SAINT JULIE BILLIART, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME

THE FEAST OF TIMOTHY LULL, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, THEOLOGIAN, AND ECUMENIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2020/04/08/devotion-for-the-fifth-sunday-of-easter-year-c-humes/

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Parts of One Body II   2 comments

Above:  King Manasseh

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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2 Chronicles 33:1-13 or Joshua 20

Psalm 81

Ephesians 5:1-20

Luke 6:17-26

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Ephesians 4:25 (from the previous post in this series) provides essential context for all these readings, not just Ephesians 5:1-20.

Then have done with falsehood and speak the truth to each other, for we belong to one another as parts of one body.

–Ephesians 4:25, The Revised English Bible (1989)

All of us can change and need grace.  Even the most wicked person can revere course.  Those who commit crimes unwittingly (see Joshua 20) differ from those who do so purposefully.  Mercy does not negate all consequences for actions, but mercy is present, fortunately.  All of us ought to be at home in the light of God and to act accordingly, as Ephesians 5:1-20 details.  Alas, not all of us are at home in that light, hence the woes following the Beatitudes in Luke 6.

I live in a topsy-turvy society glorifies the targets of Lukan woes and further afflicts–sometimes even criminalizes–the targets of Lukan Beatitudes.  I live in a society in which the advice from Ephesians 5:1-20 is sorely needed.  I read these verses and think,

So much for the most of the Internet and much of television, radio, and social media!

I do not pretend, however, that a golden age ever existed.  No, I know better than that.  We have degenerated in many ways, though, compared to previous times.   We have also improved in other ways.  All in all, we remain well below the high standard God has established.

How does one properly live into his or divine calling in a politically divided and dangerous time, when even objective reality is a topic for political dispute?  Racist, nativisitic, and xenophobic and politically expedient conspiracy theories about Coronavirus/COVID-19 continue to thrive.   Some members of the United States Congress continue to dismiss the threat this pandemic poses.  How does one properly live into one’s divine calling in such a context?  I do not know.  Each person has a limit of how much poison one can consume before spiritual toxicity takes its toll?  Is dropping out the best strategy?  Perhaps not, but it does entail less unpleasantness and strife.

May we listen to and follow God’s call to us, both individually and collectively.  May we function as agents of individual and collective healing, justice, and reconciliation.  We do, after all, belong to one another as parts of one body.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 20, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SEBASTIAN CASTELLIO, PROPHET OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPHER WORDSWORTH, HYMN WRITER AND ANGLICAN BISHOP OF LINCOLN

THE FEAST OF ELLEN GATES STARR, U.S. EPISCOPALIAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC SOCIAL ACTIVIST AND REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA JOSEFA SANCHO DE GUERRA, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SERVANTS OF JESUS

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL RODIGAST, GERMAN LUTHERAN ACADEMIC AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2020/03/20/devotion-for-the-seventh-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-humes/

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https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2020/03/20/devotion-for-proper-5-year-c-humes/

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The Communion of Saints, Part III   1 comment

Above:  All Saints

Image in the Public Domain

THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS (NOVEMBER 1)

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Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in the mystical body of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord:

Give us grace to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living,

that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit

lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2006), 663; also Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 59

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Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18

Psalm 34:1-10, 22

1 John 3:1-3

Matthew 5:1-12

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The Episcopal Church has seven Principal Feasts:  Easter Day, Ascension Day, the Day of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, All Saints’ Day, Christmas Day, and the Epiphany.

The Feast of All Saints, with the date of November 1, seems to have originated in Ireland in the 700s, then spread to England, then to Europe proper.  November 1 became the date of the feast throughout Western Europe in 835.  There had been a competing date (May 13) in Rome starting in 609 or 610.  Anglican tradition retained the date of November 1, starting with The Book of Common Prayer (1549).  Many North American Lutherans first observed All Saints’ Day with the Common Service Book (1917).  The feast was already present in The Lutheran Hymnary (Norwegian-American, 1913).  The Lutheran Hymnal (Missouri Synod, et al, 1941) also included the feast.  O the less formal front, prayers for All Saints’ Day were present in the U.S. Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (Revised) (1932), the U.S. Methodist Book of Worship for Church and Home (1945), and their successors.

The Feast of All Saints reminds us that we, as Christians, belong to a large family stretching back to the time of Christ.  If one follows the Lutheran custom of commemorating certain key figures from the Hebrew Bible, the family faith lineage predates the conception of Jesus of Nazareth.

At Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta, Georgia, where I was a member from 1993 to 1996, I participated in a lectionary discussion group during the Sunday School hour.  Icons decorated the walls of the room in which we met.  The teacher of the class called the saints depicted “the family.”

“The family” surrounds us.  It is so numerous that it is “a great cloud of witnesses,” to quote Hebrews 12:1.  May we who follow Jesus do so consistently, by grace, and eventually join that great cloud.

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Gendered language does not bother me.  Gender is, after all, a reality of human life.  Besides, neutering language frequently blurs the divide between the singular and the plural, hence my objections to the singular “they,” “them,” “their” and “themselves.”  One can–and should–be inclusive linguistically in such a way as to respect the difference between the singular and the plural.  I do understand the issue of clarity, however.  I know that how members of one generation, in a particular cultural context, perceive a gendered term, such as “sons,” differs greatly from how others elsewhere, at another time, do.  Certain modern English translations of the Bible, in an admirable attempt to be inclusive, obscure subleties of gendered terms sometimes.  However, translating a text literally does not make those subtleties clear, either.  Commentaries are necessary for that.

Consider, for example, Romans 8:14-17, O reader.  In that passage the Greek for “sons of God” often comes across in modern English as “children of God.”  Likewise, we read “children” when the Greek word means “sons.”  The cultural context, in which sons, but not daughters, inherited, is vital to understanding that portion of scripture, in which Christians, whether they are biologically sons or daughters, inherit, via Jesus.  Thus “sons of God” includes daughters.  None of that is superficially evident, however.

In contrast, “children,” as in “children of God, as opposed to “children of Satan,” in 1 John 3:1 and 3:10 is a literal translation from the Greek; the Greek word is not gender-specific.  That fact is not superficially evident, however, given the recent tendency to gloss over gendered language.  A commentary is necessary to understand that aspect of 1 John 3:1 and 3:10.

Our societies condition us in ways that frequently do not apply to the cultural contexts that informed ancient texts.

In 1929 Lesbia Scott wrote:

They lived not only in ages past,

There are hundreds of thousands still,

The world is bright with the joyous saints

Who love to do Jesus’ will.

You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,

In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,

For the saints of God are just folk like me,

And I mean to be one too.

The apocalyptic hope present in Daniel 7, the community focus of Psalm 34, and the counter-cultural values of the Beatitudes should encourage us to persist is fidelity to God, to do so in faith community, and without resorting to serial contrariness, to lead lives that reject those cultural values contrary to the message of the Beatitudes.  We must do this for the glory of God and the benefit of people near, far away, and not yet born.  And, when our earthly pilgrimage ends, others will take up the cause we join what Hebrews 12:1 calls

a great cloud of witnesses.

Members of that great cloud of witnesses are sons and daughters of God–inheritors of the promise, by the grace of God.  Certain cultures restrict inheritance rights according to gender, but God does not.  Each of us, by grace and faith, can be among the sons of God and the children of the light.

And I mean to be one, too.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 17, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUTTA OF DISIBODENBERG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS; AND HER STUDENT, SAINT HILDEGARD OF BINGEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF GERARD MOULTRIE, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZYGMUNT SZCESNY FELINSKI, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF WARSAW, TITULAR BISHOP OF TARSUS, AND FOUNDER OF RECOVERY FOR THE POOR AND THE CONGREGATION OF THE FRANCISCAN SISTERS OF THE FAMILY OF MARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZYGMUNT SAJNA, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1940

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/09/17/devotion-for-the-feast-of-all-saints-years-a-b-c-and-d-humes/

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Attachments, Part III   Leave a comment

Above:  Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, by Heinrich Hofmann

Image in the Public Domain

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

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O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity:

Mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace, that we,

running the way of your commandments, may obtain your gracious promises,

and become partakers of your heavenly treasure;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 139

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1 Samuel 9:15-17; 10:1

Psalm 17

Romans 8:14-39

Luke 18:18-30

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For I reckon that the sufferings we now endure bear no comparison with the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is in store for us.

–Romans 8:18, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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Suffering can have a multitude of possible causes; one might be innocent, one might have brought one’s fate on oneself, or reality might be complicated.  One might suffer for the sake of righteousness, due to political perfidy, or one’s misplaced spiritual attachments, among other reasons.

Let us consider wealth, one of the issues in Luke 18:18-30.  We are reading from the Gospel of Luke, which tells us that the poor are blessed (6:20) and the rich (woe to them, the text says) have received their consolation (6:24).  Wealth and poverty are major themes in the Gospel of Luke.  The greater matter in this story, however, is attachment–in this case, to wealth.  To reduce the question to wealth is to oversimplify it and let many people off the hook.  Anything that becomes a crutch, thereby preventing one from acknowledging one’s total dependence on God, is functionally a spiritual problem.

Although we read in Luke 18:23 that the man went away sorrowful, the story is open-ended.  One might wonder if he eventually reordered his priorities.  One function of open-ended stories in the Bible is to invite the reader/listener into the narrative, and thereby to ask him or her how he or she will respond to any given story.

This story challenges me, for I have my own attachments.  You, O reader, also have your attachments.  All of us have attachments that stand between us and God.  The story should therefore challenge all of us.  How will we deal with the challenge?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 5, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN NEPOMUCENE NEUMANN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF PHILADELPHIA

THE FEAST OF ANTONIO LOTTI, ROMAN CATHOLIC MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINT GENOVEVA TORRES MORALES, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS AND THE HOLY ANGELS

THE FEAST OF MARGARET MACKAY, SCOTTISH HYMN WRITER

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Jesus, Threat   1 comment

Christ Before Pilate

Above:  Christ Before Pilate, by Mihaly Munkracsy

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Creator God, you prepare a new way in the wilderness,

and your grace waters our desert.

Open our hearts to be transformed by the new thing you are doing,

that our lives may proclaim the extravagance of your love

given to all through your Son, 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 29

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 12:21-27

Psalm 126

John 11:45-47

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When the LORD restored Zion

it was as though we were dreaming.

We could not speak for laughing,

we could only utter cries of joy.

Then the saying arose among the nations,

“The LORD has done something great with these people.”

The LORD has done something great with us;

we were delighted.

–Psalm 126:1-3, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)

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The remembrance of what God has done (as in Psalm 126) and was about to do (as in Exodus 12) was supposed to inspire reverence for God, measurable in various ways, including how people treated others.  The plot to scapegoat Jesus (in John 11) contradicted that ethic.

Celebrating Passover, the annual commemoration of God liberating the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, in occupied Jerusalem was politically sensitive.  Furthermore, the Temple was the seat of collaboration with the Roman occupying forces.  Jesus was a threat to the Temple authorities and, by extension, to their Roman overlords and partners.  When he entered the city at the beginning of that fateful week leading up to his crucifixion, Jesus arrived in the manner of a triumphant king en route to peace talks after a battle.  Our Lord and Savior, the Gospel of John makes clear, rejected offers to seek to expel the Romans, but many people, including Pontius Pilate, thought that Jesus might lead an insurrection.  Even after Pilate realized that Jesus was not a political rebel, he understood our Lord and Savior to be a threat nevertheless.  Jesus was a threat, but not in the way Pilate thought.

Jesus was a threat to a form of piety which privileged wealth and depended on a certain amount of it in a society which consisted primarily of illiterate peasants.  Jesus was a threat to religious legalism.  Jesus was a threat to religious practices which draped economic injustice in the cloak of piety.

Man Nobody Knows

Above:  The Table of Contents from The Man Nobody Knows:  A Discovery of the Real Jesus (1925), by Bruce Barton

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Jesus remains a threat to such practices in our time.  We cannot kill him again.  Besides, he did not remain dead for long the last time.  We are capable, however, of attempting to domesticate Jesus.  People left, right, and center have been engaged in this practice for a very long time.  One might, for example, ignore the Beatitudes and Woes from Luke 6:17-26, downplay or ignore his apocalyptic teachings, or portray him as always nice and smiling.  The genuine article, however, was–and remains–a threat to a variety of misconceptions about Jesus.  I like to think that, even if I had not grown up in the Christian faith, I would have become a Christian because of the portrayal of Jesus in the four canonical Gospels.

The remembrance of what God has done and some awareness of what God is doing compel me to have reverence for God.  Among the examples to which I point is Jesus.  His life invites me to examine my life.  Much of what he reveals to me makes me uncomfortable, but identifying a problem is the first step in correcting them.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 4, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS COTTERILL, ENGLISH PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN CALABRIA, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE POOR SERVANTS AND THE POOR WOMEN SERVANTS OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH MOHR, AUSTRIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/devotion-for-saturday-before-the-fifth-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Wrestling With Biblical Texts   1 comment

moses-with-the-tablets-of-the-law-rembrandt-van-rijn

Above:  Moses With the Tablets of the Law, by Rembrandt Van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, on this day you open the hearts of your faithful people

by sending us your Holy Spirit.

Direct us by the light of that Spirit,

that we may have a right judgment in all things

and rejoice at all times in your peace,

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 36

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 20:1-21

Psalm 33:12-22

Matthew 5:1-12

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Some Related Posts:

Exodus 20:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-the-sixth-sunday-after-epiphany-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/third-sunday-in-lent-year-b/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/devotion-for-the-eighth-day-of-easter-second-sunday-of-easter-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/proper-22-year-a/

Matthew 5:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/devotion-for-september-28-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Shall we unpack the Ten Commandments, at least a little?

  1. Many more commandments follow immediately, starting in Exodus 20.
  2. Many of the Ten Commandments are self-explanatory, so not committing adultery against a neighbor are straight-forward, for example.
  3. Swearing falsely by the name of God refers to insincere oaths and to attempts to control God, not to certain curse words and related expressions.
  4. On the troubling side, the text classes wives with property and livestock (20:14) and allows for slavery (20:10).
  5. The commandment to have no other gods might deny the existence of other deities or mean simply not to worship them while acknowledging their existence.  Hebrew Bible scholars debate that point.  Yet I know that many Hebrews during Biblical times not only acknowledged the existence of other deities but worshiped some of them.
  6. Sometimes displaying the Ten Commandments constitutes idolatry, which intention defines.

Exodus 20:5-6 requires some explanation.  Does God really punish descendants for someone’s sins?  Or is this a description of behaviors repeated across generations?  The ultimate context in which to consider any passage of Scripture is the entire canon thereof.  Thus I point out that a note on page 149 of The Jewish Study Bible (2004) lists Deuteronomy 24:6; Jeremiah 31:29-30; and Ezekiel 18:1-20 as passages which state that God punishes a person for his or her sins alone.  This nuance helps to fill out the picture.  Sometimes Biblical authors wrote of effects as if they were divine purposes, even when they were not.  Human understandings have changed, even if God has not.

If we read Exodus 20:5-6 as descriptive and interpret it within the context of the previously listed passages from Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, a certain understanding takes shape.  One’s good and bad behaviors might echo for three or four or more generations.  I can, for example, identify positive and negative legacies from two of my paternal great-grandfathers which have affected me.  I, being aware of my responsibility for my own actions, have endeavored to keep the good and to break with the bad.  God know how successful that has proven so far.

The Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes are about, among other things, how faithful people of God ought to live with God and in community.  Depending on one’s community, living with God properly might contradict the former and lead to persecutions–even death.  The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12 and Luke 6:20-23) say that God’s order is not the dominant human one in which a person lives.  The Beatitudes are counter-cultural.  And Luke 6:24-26 (the Woes) goes beyond anything Matthew 5:3-12 indicates.  If one really reads them, one should recognize that the Beatitudes and Woes remain political hot potatoes.

One part of the honest–not autopilot–interaction with the Bible I like is that we must wrestle with texts and reconsider aspects of our opinions, culture, politics, and economics–even ones which we like and which benefit us.  This is healthy to do.  We will do it if we take the Bible seriously and seek to cut through confirmation bias and defense mechanisms.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 20, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTIETH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMINIC OF SILOS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CANISIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF KATHERINA VON BORA LUTHER, WIFE OF MARTIN LUTHER

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2013/12/20/devotion-for-the-forty-ninth-day-of-easter-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Yahweh: Accept No Substitutes   1 comment

Above:  Baal 

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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1 Kings 17:1-6 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Elijah the Tishbite, an inhabitant of Gilead, said to Ahab,

As the LORD lives, the God of Israel whom I serve, there will be no dew or rain except at my bidding.

The word of the LORD came to him:

Leave this place; turn eastward and go into hiding by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.  You will drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.

He proceeded to do as the LORD had bidden:  he went, and he stayed by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.  The ravens brought him bread and meat every morning and every morning, and he drank from the wadi.

Psalm 121 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  I lift up my eyes to the hills;

from where is my help to come?

2  My help comes from the LORD,

the maker of heaven and earth.

3  He will not let your foot be moved

and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.

4  Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel

shall neither slumber nor sleep;

5  The LORD himself watches over you;

the LORD is your shade at your right hand,

6  So that the sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.

7  The LORD shall preserve you from all evil;

it is he who shall keep you safe.

8  The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in,

from this time forth for evermore.

Matthew 5:1-12 (An American Translation):

When Jesus saw the crowds of people he went up on the mountain.  There he seated himself, and when his disciples had come up to him, he opened his lips to teach them.  And he said,

Blessed are those who feel their spiritual need, for the Kingdom of God belongs to them!

Blessed are the mourners, for they will be consoled!

Blessed are the humble-minded, for they will possess the land!

Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for uprightness, for they will be satisfied!

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy!

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God!

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called God’s sons!

Blessed are those who have endured the persecution for their uprightness, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them!

Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you, and falsely say everything bad of you, on my account.  Be glad and exult over it, for you will be richly rewarded in heaven, for that is the way they persecuted the prophets who went before you!

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The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; 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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Some Related Posts:

Week of Proper 5:  Monday, Year 1:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/22/week-of-proper-5-monday-year-1/

Matthew 5:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a/

Remember Your Servants, Lord:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/remember-your-servants-lord/

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HISTORICAL INFORMATION:

With this post the Canadian Anglican lectionary I am following returns to 1 Kings.  The last time I was here via this reading plan was at this URL:  http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/week-of-5-epiphany-saturday-year-2/.  So it is appropriate to begin with grounding in the narrative.  The dates come from The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford University Press, 2004), page 2111.

Reigns of the Kings of Judah (Davidic Dynasty):

Rehoboam (928-911 B.C.E.)–17 years

Abijam, a.k.a. Abihah (911-908 B.C.E.)–3 years

Asa (908-867 B.C.E.)–41 years

The text criticizes all these monarchs, frequently for idolatry.

Reigns of the King of Israel:

House of Jeroboam:

Jeroboam I (928-907 B.C.E.)–22 years

Nadab (907-906 B.C.E.)–2 years–overthrown in a palace coup

House of Baasha:

Baasha (906-883 B.C.E.)–23 years

Elah (883-882 B.C.E.)–2 years–overthrown by a chariot commander, Zimri

House of Zimri:

Zimri (882 B.C.E.)–1 week–overthrown by the army commander, Omri

House of Omri:

Omri (882-871 B.C.E.)–12 years

Ahab (873-852 B.C.E.)–22 years

The text criticizes all these monarchs, frequently for idolatry.

Now we are ready to begin the devotional text.

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Baal, a Canaanite deity, was allegedly responsible for sending the rains.  So what better way, according to the narrative in 1 Kings, for Yahweh to demonstrate the imaginary nature of Baal than to impose a drought upon Israel, where Baal worship was widespread?  This Yahweh, by the way, also protected and fed his prophet, Elijah, who delivered the prophesy of the drought.

The Matthew version of the Beatitudes, in Edgar Goodspeed’s An American Translation, includes this line:

Blessed are those who feel their spiritual need, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them.

But perhaps the New Living Translation (first edition, 1996) offers the best rendering:

God blesses those who realize their need for him,

for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.

(The second edition (2004) of the New Living Translation, by the way, has a different rendering of the first Beatitude, an odd hybrid of the first line of Matthew and Luke Beatitudes.)

We human beings are inherently religious.  Even varieties of Atheism are merely types of Fundamentalism.  Just listen to militant Fundamentalists, who are evangelical in their unbelief.  For much of human history polytheism was the nearly universal default mode.  Monotheism, a great moral and theological advance, did not gain immediate and widespread acceptance in the corners where it existed.  For much of the Old Testament most Hebrews were polytheists, a reality against which biblical prophets inveighed.  The worship of Yahweh was widespread, but many of his devotees also bowed down to Baal, Astarte, and other deities.  The message of the prophets was to worship Yahweh alone.  The fault with the great bulk of spiritual seekers was that they sought to fill their spiritual needs at too many venues. The blessed spiritual seekers of Matthew’s first Beatitude are those who, if you will pardon my analogy, fill up their gas tanks at God’s gas station only.

May the first Beatitude, not the condemnations from 1 Kings, describe us. May we love and honor the one God who loves us.  There is a God-shaped hole inside each of us; may we fill it with God alone.  May we accept no substitutes.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 4, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF J. ROBERT HARRIS, SOUTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN BAPTIST VIANNEY, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/week-of-proper-5-monday-year-2/

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Posted February 5, 2012 by neatnik2009 in 1 Kings 17, Matthew 5, Psalm 121

Tagged with , ,