Archive for the ‘Beatitudes’ Tag

The Divine Mandate for Social Justice II   4 comments

Above:  Icon of the Ministry of the Apostles

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Acts 17:1-15

Psalm 33:1-11 (LBW) or Psalm 146 (LW)

1 Peter 2:4-10

John 14:1-12

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O God, form the minds of your faithful people into a single will. 

Make us love what you command and desire what you promise,

that, amid, all the changes of this world,

our hearts may be fixed where true joy is found;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 22

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O God, you make the minds of your faithful to be of one will;

therefore grant to your people that they may love what you command

and desire what you promise,

that among the manifold changes of this age our hearts

may ever be fixed where true joys are to be found;

through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 53

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…the people who have been turning the whole world upside down have come here now….

–Acts 17:6b, The Revised New Jerusalem Bible (2019)

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One need not be evil to favor maintaining the status quo, even when it is exploitative and for overturning.  Good, morally defensible change can cause disorientation and discomfort, even among conventionally pious people.  The terms “revolutionary,” “liberal,” “conservative,” and “reactionary” are inherently relative to the center, the definition of which varies according to time and place.  These four labels are, in the abstract, morally neutral.  In circumstances, however, they are not.  Being conservative, for example, may be right or wrong, depending on what one hopes to conserve.  And, if one is not a revolutionary in certain circumstances, one is morally defective.

The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., called for a

moral revolution of values

on April 4, 1967, when he finally unambiguously and unapologetically opposed the Vietnam War.  That address, which he delivered at the Riverside Church, Manhattan, proved to be extremely controversial, mainly because of King’s position on the Vietnam War.  That controversy obscured much of the rest of the contents of the speech.  (King was correct to oppose the Vietnam War, by the way.)  The other content of that speech remains prophetic and germane.  The call for a society that values people more than property, for example, has not come to fruition, sadly.

Sometimes “turning the world upside down” is really turning it right side up, as in Psalm 146 and the Beatitudes.  Giving justice to the oppressed, feeding the hungry, caring for the strangers, sustaining the orphan and the widow, and frustrating the way of the wicked are examples of turning the world right side up, not upside down.  You, O reader, and I live in an upside-down world.

This is theologically orthodox.  False theological orthodoxy mistakes social justice for heresy and bolsters social injustice.  However, the Law of Moses, the Hebrew prophets, and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are consistent in holding that social injustice is a divine mandate.

So be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 21, 2022 COMMON ERA

THURSDAY IN EASTER WEEK

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROMAN ADAME ROSALES, MEXICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1927

THE FEAST OF SAINT CONRAD OF PARZHAM, CAPUCHIN FRIAR

THE FEAST OF DAVID BRAINERD, AMERICAN CONGREGATIONALIST THEN PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY AND MINISTER

THE FEAST OF GEORGE B. CAIRD, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST THEN UNITED REFORMED MINISTER, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR, AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF GEORGIA HARKNESS, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, ETHICIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIMON BARSABAE, BISHOP; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS, 341

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Adapted from this post

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Two Parables About Prayer   Leave a comment

Above:  Avenge Me of Mine Adversary

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XLV

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Luke 18:1-14

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Luke 18 is a well-composed and arranged study in contrasts.  The first contrasts play out in the two parables that open the chapter.

The Parable of the Persistent Widow and the Corrupt/Unjust Judge (vs. 1-8) exists within a cultural context in which widows were vulnerable.  The widow in the parable has to defend her own rights because nobody else will.  She threatens the judge with a black eye, thereby convincing him to grant her justice.  God is the opposite of that judge.  God readily secures the rights of who petition for them.  Therefore, pray persistently and faithfully.

Certain scholars of the New Testament debate whether some texts refer to tax collectors or to toll collectors.  For my purposes in this post, that is a distinction without a difference, though.  So, as I turn to Luke 17:9-14, the collector of taxes or tolls (It matters not which one.) is a social pariah because of his collection duties.

Let us be honest–brutally so, if necessary.  Spiritual pride may be a sin with which you, O reader, are familiar, even if only by knowing someone who has it.  Clarence Jordan, in his Cotton Patch Version of the Gospel of Luke (Jesus’ Doings), changes the Pharisee to a church member and the tax/toll collector to an unsaved man.  That updating of the parable hits home, does it not?  Those who know their need for God are open to God.

Recall Luke 17:7-10, O reader; humility before God is the proper attitude.  One may also remember Matthew 5:3:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

“Poor in spirit” is a translation that may be so familiar as to seem trite.  Other options exist, however.

Clarence Jordan has “spiritually humble.”

David Bentley Hart translates this Beatitude as:

How blissful the destitute, abject in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of the heavens….

A note in Hart’s The New Testament:  A Translation (2017) indicates that the connotation is that of a cowering or cringing poor man or beggar.

La Bible en Français Courant (1997) reads:

Heureux ceux qui se savent pauvres en eux-mêmes, ….

In English, it reads:

Blessed are those who know they are poor in themselves….

That is a fine translation, too.

Perhaps the best rendering in English comes from J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English–Revised Edition (1972):

How happy are they who know their need for God….

We are all poor in ourselves.  We all need God.  How many of us know it, though?

May we humbly and persistently walk before God and with God, trusting in God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 27, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JEROME, PAULA OF ROME, EUSTOCHIUM, BLAESILLA, MARCELLA, AND LEA OF ROME

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANGELA MERICI, FOUNDER OF THE COMPANY OF SAINT URSULA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CAROLINA SANTOCANALE, FOUNDER OF THE CAPUCHIN SISTERS OF THE IMMACULATE OF LOURDES

THE FEAST OF CASPAR NEUMANN, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MARY EVELYN “MEV” PULEO, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PHOTOJOURNALIST AND ADVOCATE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

THE FEAST OF PIERRE BATIFFOL, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, HISTORIAN, AND THEOLOGIAN

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Mutuality in God X   1 comment

Above:  Icon of the Beatitudes

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Micah 6:1-8

Psalm 1

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Matthew 5:1-12

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O God, you know that we cannot withstand

the dangers which surround us. 

Strengthen us in body and spirit so that, with your help,

we may be able to overcome the weakness

that our sin has brought upon us;

through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 16

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Almighty God,

you know that we are set among so many and great dangers

that by reason of the weakness of our fallen nature

we cannot always stand upright;

grant us your strength and protection to support us in all dangers

and carry us through all temptations;

through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns

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

Lutheran Worship (1982), 25

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Sacred ritual is part of the Law of Moses.  So are moral mandates regarding how people ought to treat each other.  A sacred ritual is not a talisman.  To treat it as such is to make a mockery of it.

“The man” of Psalm 1:1 is a student of the Torah.  He, in the original cultural setting and in the Hebrew text, is a man.  In my cultural setting, that role is no longer gender-specific, for the better.  Certain details change, according to physical and temporal setting.  Others remain constant, though, for better or worse.  For example, “the man” of Psalm 1:1 is stable.  The language of positions in Psalm 1:1 is interesting.  “The man” contrasts with the impious, who are in motion–walking, following, and standing–before finally sitting down in the seat of scoffers.  True stability exists in God alone.

The readings from the New Testament tell us that divine values differ from dominant human values.  Conventional wisdom may get some details right.  After all, a broken clock is right twice a day.  Yet conventional wisdom tends to be foolishness.  The ethics of the Beatitudes, for example, look like folly to “the world.”

Micah 6 contrasts with what God has done with what people have done, collectively.  The Bible frequently concerns itself with collective actions and inactions.  My Western culture, with its individualistic emphasis, does not know how to comprehend collective guilt, sin, and repentance.  Yet the Bible does.  Mutuality, not individualism, is a Biblical virtue.  Remember, O reader, that in three of the four readings for this Sunday, the emphasis is on “we,” not “me.”  Furthermore, “we” and “me” coexist in Psalm 1.

The emphasis on “we” terrifies me.  I may try to follow God daily, to practice the Golden Rule, et cetera.  Yet I also belong to a community, a culture, a society, a nation-state, and a species.  The sins of others may cause me to suffer because of my group memberships–community, culture, society, nation-state, and species.  Recall, O reader, that the population in Micah 6 addressed included pious people.  Remember, O reader, that not all Christians in Corinth were querulous jerks.

Ponder, O reader, how we–the “we” of wherever you live–can improve relative to Micah 6:8.  How can “we” do justice, love goodness, and walk modestly with God?

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MIROCLES OF MILAN AND EPIPHANIUS OF PAVIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ALBAN ROE AND THOMAS REYNOLDS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1642

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN YI YON-ON, ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR IN KOREA, 1867

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Adapted from this post

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The Sermon on the Plain   Leave a comment

Above:  The Sermon of the Beatitudes, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XVI

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Luke 6:20-49

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If the FOX News Channel had existed in the time of Jesus, its “talent” would have lambasted Jesus.  The Woes (6:24-26) would have been examples of class warfare.  Jesus would have been a “woke” Social Justice Warrior–and probably a communist.  To quote a meme from a few years ago,

NO, BARACK OBAMA IS NOT A DARK-SKINNED SOCIALIST GIVING AWAY HEALTH CARE.  YOU’RE THINKING OF JESUS.

Jesus was a social revolutionary.  He comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable.  He died for doing so.

The Gospel of Matthew has the Sermon on the Mount.  The Gospel of Luke has the Sermon on the Plain.  This is no matter; both sermons are literary constructs anyway.  Their importance is their content.  In Luke 6:20f, the poor are poor, the hungry are hungry, and the weeping weep.  Also, the wealthy are receiving their consolation, those with plenty to eat will go hungry, those who are laughing will weep, and those who are renowned will be like false prophets.  The Lucan reversal of fortune is in full swing.

Jesus taught in a particular context.  The vast majority of the population was desperately poor.  The wealthy had either build their fortunes or maintained their fortunes by exploiting the poor.  The middle class was small.  This model has remained current in much of the world, unfortunately.

The gap between the rich and the poor has been growing wider for decades in my country, the United States of America.  The Right Wing has long placed too high a value on property rights and too low a value on human rights.  The moral critique that the United States society needs to value people more than things has remained as valid as it was on April 4, 1967, when a modern-day prophet, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., uttered it in the Riverside Church, New York, New York.  The Right Wing detested him and suspected him of communism, too.

As Michael Eric Dyson correctly argues, the version of Martin Luther King, Jr., many White conservatives find non-threatening is a historical fiction.  King’s radicalism offers a stinging critique of many current conservative talking points.  King’s radicalism still comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.

The teachings of Jesus continue to comfort and afflict simultaneously.  Loving enemies, for example, breaks the cycle of violence.  But hearing that we should love our enemies may afflict us.  Condemnations of hypocrisy apply to everyone, too.  Jesus continues to meddle in our business, as he ought to do.  We want God to comfort us and people similar to ourselves, but to smite “those people”–everyone else, those whom we have othered.  God loves them, too, of course.

As Christians we believe that what Jesus began with the call of the Twelve and the sharp-edged teaching of blessings and curses remains in force today.  This is the shape of the kingdom:  the kingdom which still today turns the world upside down, or perhaps the right way up, as much as it ever did.

–N. T. Wright, Advent for Everyone:  Luke–A Daily Devotional (2018), 17

The world is upside down when it ought to be right side up.  Are you, O reader, complicit in maintaining this disorder?  If so, the teachings of Jesus afflict you, as they should.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 29, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS (TRANSFERRED)

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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   4 comments

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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