Archive for the ‘C. H. Dodd’ Tag

Judgment and Mercy, Part IX   Leave a comment

Above:  Halstead & Company, Beef & Pork Packers, Lard Refiners & Co.

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-pga-01454

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

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Startle us, O God, with thy truth, and open our minds to thy Spirit,

that this day we may receive thee humbly and find hope fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 124

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Isaiah 64:1-9

Ephesians 1:3-14

Mark 7:14-23

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The end of the Babylonian Exile, according to a portion of prophecy, was supposed to bring about paradise on Earth for returning exiles.  It did not.  Third Isaiah, after recounting some mighty acts of God in Isaiah 63, immediately asked where God was and why such mighty acts were absent.  The recorded divine response (in Isaiah 65) cataloged national sins and insisted that the divine promise remained.

God, ever an active agent, dispenses both judgment and mercy.  Divine judgment terrifies and divine mercy amazes.  The centrality of Christ, certainly a figure of mercy, also functions as a defining agent of the terms of judgment.  On one hand we have the atonement and unity in Christ.  On the other hand, however, we have those who refuse to participate in that unity, with all its moral requirements, both individual and collective.  As C. H. Dodd wrote, the Incarnation, good news, made more apparent what was already true, and those who rejected Christ were worse off for having done so.

The author of the Gospel of Mark (let us call him “Mark,” for the sake of convenience) included an aside to the reader or hearer of Chapter 7; he wrote that Jesus pronounced all foods clean.  The dating of the Markan Gospel (either shortly before or after 70 C.E., most likely) aside, that news flash about food laws did not reach many early Jewish Christians.  It also countermanded the condemnation of those who ate pork in Isaiah 64.  Moral impurity was an internal matter, Jesus said.

That principle applies both individually and collectively.  Human nature is what it is, for both good and ill.  That simple statement does not constitute an excuse for any bad behavior and improper inaction, of course.  Besides, grace is available to help us become better people, societies, families, et cetera.  We are imperfect, but we need not be shamelessly sinful and degraded.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 2, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST DAY OF ADVENT:  THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF CHANNING MOORE WILLIAMS, EPISCOPAL MISSIONARY BISHOP IN CHINA AND JAPAN

THE FEAST OF ALICE FREEMAN PALMER, U.S. EDUCATOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT BRIOC, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT TUDWAL, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT OSMUND OF SALISBURY, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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The Kingdom of God, Part IV   Leave a comment

Above:  Ministry of the Apostles

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities,

and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth thy right hand to help and defend us;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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

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Ezekiel 34:25-31

Romans 14:1-9

Mark 1:14-22

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The time has arrived; the kingdom of God is upon you.  Repent, and believe the gospel.

–Jesus, in Mark 1:14, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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The concept of the Kingdom of God is multifaceted.  In the New Testament it carries shades of meaning.  In at least one instance it refers to Heaven.  However, it usually indicates the earthly reign or realm of God.  Sometimes the operative Greek word indicates more of a reign than a realm, but a reign seems to imply a realm, does it not?  So, where is the Kingdom of God?  It seems rather difficult to locate, given history and current events.

More than one answer proves helpful, at least to me.  I read C. H. Dodd and learn of his perspective, Realized Eschatology.  The Kingdom of God is not nearer at one point than at another; it just seems that way from our human points of view.  Other scholars prefer to emphasize the sense in which the Kingdom of God is already present, yet not fully realized.  The Kingdom of God, at least from our human, temporal perspectives, is both present and future.

The unconditional love of God for us is free yet not cheap grace; it imposes responsibilities upon us.  We have orders to look out for each other.  Certainly the Kingdom of God, even if only partially realized, is present in such actions.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 28, 2018 COMMON ERA

PROPER 25:  THE TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINTS SIMON AND JUDE, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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God is the Ruler Yet II   1 comment

Above:   Christ Pantocrator

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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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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Daniel 1:1-17

Psalm 9:1-8

Revelation 1:9-18

Luke 17:20-21

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This is my father’s world!

O let me ne’er forget

that though the wrong

seems oft so strong,

God is the ruler yet.

–Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901)

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In the reading from the Book of Revelation the imagery used to describe Jesus is similar to that usually reserved for the Roman Emperor.  Thus the Apocalypse of John fits the bill of subversive literature from the beginning.  Revelation 1:9-18 is therefore an appropriate lesson to read on Christ the King Sunday.

British Congregationalist minister Charles Harold (C. H.) Dodd proposed Realized Eschatology. The Kingdom of God, he wrote, has always been present.  It has, however, been more evident at some times than on others.  Dodd must have been thinking about the assigned Gospel reading as he formulated that idea.  Psalm 9 might also have been on his mind.

If Dodd was correct, what about exploitative powers, such as the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire (in Daniel) and the Roman Empire (in Revelation), among other oppressive regimes?  The question of, if God exists, why evil does also, has vexed many people over the ages.  But why would the existence of God nullify human free will and prevent abuses of it?

As the Mennonites tell us, we are living in the age of God’s patience.  This indicates a future age of divine impatience, with good news for many and catastrophic news for many others.  Judgment is in the purview of God, not mere mortals.  May we mere mortals understand that reality and embrace it.  May we also trust in God, who, despite appearances, is the ruler yet.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 21, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALOYSIUS GONZAGA, JESUIT

THE FEAST OF CARL BERNHARD GARVE, GERMAN MORAVIAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN JONES AND JOHN RIGBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2017/06/21/devotion-for-proper-29-ackerman/

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This is post #1700 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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Two Kingdoms   1 comment

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

Above:  David Entrusts a Letter to Uriah

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, we thank you for your Son,

who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world.

Humble us by his example,

point us to the path of obedience,

and give us strength to follow your commands,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46

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The Assigned Readings:

2 Samuel 11:2-26 (Monday)

2 Samuel 11:27b-12:15 (Tuesday)

Psalm 17 (Both Days)

Revelation 3:1-6 (Monday)

Revelation 3:7-13 (Tuesday)

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Hear my just cause, O Lord; consider my complaint;

listen to my prayer, which comes not from lying lips.

Let my vindication come forth from your presence;

let your eyes behold what is right.

Weigh my heart, examine me by night,

refine me, and you will find no impurity in me.

My mouth does not trespass for earthly rewards;

I have heeded the words of your lips.

My footsteps hold fast in the ways of your commandments;

my feet have not stumbled in your paths.

–Psalm 17:1-5, Common Worship (2000)

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Those words, in the context of the story of David and Bathsheba, have the hollow ring of irony.  They also belie the reputation of the Church at Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) and fit the Church at Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13).  With that introduction I announce that this post focuses on the theme of two kingdoms–one of human origin and exploitative, the other of divine origin and just.  The Book of Revelation/Apocalypse of John is about, among other topics, God destroying the corrupt and exploitative status quo ante then establishing in its fullness the Kingdom of God.

Charles Harold (C. H.) Dodd wrote in his short book, The Founder of Christianity (1970), that, since God exists beyond time, the Kingdom of God is really never closer to or further away from us at any point in time than another.  He wrote, however, that, since we mere mortals experience time as we do, the Kingdom of God seems closer or further away at some times than at others.  And, he continued, certain events make the Kingdom of God more apparent than it was previously.  Among these was the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as Jesus of Nazareth.

Other reading I have done has brought to my attention the concept of the Kingdom of God as being apparent in the person of Jesus and in his ministry yet not unveiled fully yet.  The Kingdom of God, it seems, has been unveiling for a long time, at least from a human perspective.

The Kingdom of God functions in the New Testament as, among other things, a scathing critique of the Roman Empire.  The Emperor Augustus, who had restored order out of the chaos of the demise of the Roman Republic, was, according to propaganda, the savior of the (Roman) world.  Coinage proclaimed him the “Son of God” (in Latin, of course).  Therefore claims that Jesus was the “Son of God” and the savior of the world attracted official Roman attention of the dangerous variety.  The foundations of the Roman Empire included violence, economic exploitation, and slavery.  In contrast, the foundations of the Kingdom of God are quite unlike those of the Roman Empire or any other tyrannical state of the past, present, or future.

This brings me to the Kingdom of Israel.  One does well to reread 1 Samuel 8:10-18, the text of which from the Revised English Bible (1989) follows:

Samuel reported to the people who were asking him for a king all that the LORD had said to him.  “This will be the sort of king who will rule over you,” he said.  “He will take your sons and make them serve in his chariots and with his cavalry, and they will run before his chariot.  Some he will appoint officers over units of a thousand and units of fifty.  Others will plough his fields and reap his harvest; others again will make weapons of war and equipment for chariots.  He will take your daughters for perfumers, cooks, and bakers.  He will seize the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his courtiers.  He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage to give to his eunuchs and courtiers.  Your slaves, both men and women, and the best of your cattle and your donkeys he will take for his own use.  He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.  There will come a day when you will cry out against the king whom you have chosen; but the LORD will not answer you on that day.”

And he will have the power to take your wives and arrange for you to die merely because you have become inconvenient.

God is a much better king.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 20, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL HANSON COX, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND ABOLITIONIST; AND HIS SON, ARTHUR CLEVELAND COXE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WESTERN NEW YORK, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANSEGIUS OF FONTANELLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH CADY STANTON, AMELIA BLOOMER, SOJOURNER TRUTH, AND HARRIET ROSS TUBMAN, WITNESSES TO CIVIL RIGHTS FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS AND WOMEN

THE FEAST OF SAINTS FLAVIAN II OF ANTIOCH AND ELIAS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCHS

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-proper-17-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Freedom and Judgment   1 comment

Last Judgment

Above:  The Last Judgment

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Faithful God, most merciful judge,

you care for your children with firmness and compassion.

By your Spirit nurture us who live in your kingdom,

that we may be rooted in the way of your Son,

 Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Nahum 1:1-13 (Monday)

Zephaniah 3:1-3 (Tuesday)

Daniel 12:1-13 (Wednesday)

Psalm 75 (All Days)

Revelation 14 (Monday)

Galatians 4:21-5:1 (Tuesday)

Matthew 12:15-21 (Wednesday)

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“I will appoint a time,” says God;

“I will judge with equity.

Though the earth and all its inhabitants are quaking,

I will make its pillars fast.

I will say to the boasters, ‘Boast no more,’

and to the wicked, ‘Do not toss your horns;

Do not toss your horns so high,

nor speak with a proud neck.’”

For judgment is neither from the east nor from the west,

nor yet from the wilderness or the mountains.

–Psalm 75:2-6, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The readings for these three days speak of freedom, judgment, and mercy.  In Nahum 1 mercy for the Israelites was judgment upon the Assyrians.  Judgment upon Jerusalem came in Zephaniah 3.  The authors of Daniel 12 and Revelation 14 wrote of an eschatological judgment, something one reads about (sort of) in Matthew 12.  Condemnation resulted from the abuse of freedom.

The late C. H. Dodd summarized a vital lesson in these readings better than my ability to paraphrase.  The Kingdom of God, Dodd wrote, is nearer to or further away only from a human, temporal perspective.

There are particular moments in the lives of men and in the history of mankind when what is permanently true (if largely unrecognized) becomes manifestly and effectively true.  Such a moment is reflected in the gospels….But when a person (or a society) has been presented with such a challenge and declines it is not just where he was before.  His position is the worse for the encounter.  It is this that gives point to the tremendous warnings that Jesus is reported to have uttered about the consequences of rejection….Whatever possibility of disaster may lurk within the choice which is offered, the facing of the choice, in the freedom which the Creator allows to his creatures, in itself raises life to greater intensity.  The coming of the kingdom meant the open possibility of enhancement of life; it also meant the heightening of moral responsibility.

The Founder of Christianity (New York, NY:  Macmillan Publishing Company, 1970), pages 57-58

May we exercise our freedom to become better people, build up our neighborhoods and society, lift each other up, seek the common good, and glorify God.  May our love for God and each other be active and contagious.  And may our words, even if they are impressive in the service of God, be far less eloquent than our actions in the same cause.  May all of this prove to be true because righteousness is good and we seek that which is good.  And may we succeed by grace and be among God’s faithful servants.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY OF PADUA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF G. K. (GILBERT KEITH) CHESTERTON, AUTHOR

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-11-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Service and Glory I   1 comment

pat_2017

Above:  Thanksgiving Meal at Malachi’s Store House, St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Dunwoody, Georgia, November 19, 2013

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

(https://plus.google.com/photos/114749828757741527421/albums/5948460403024892561/5948460517178905522?banner=pwa&pid=5948460517178905522&oid=114749828757741527421)

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The Collect:

O God of glory, your Son Jesus Christ suffered for us

and ascended to your right hand.

Unite us with Christ and each other in suffering and joy,

that all the world may be drawn into your bountiful presence,

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 35

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The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 9:1-11, 22-24 (44th Day)

Numbers 16:41-50 (45th Day)

1 Kings 8:54-65 (46th Day)

Psalm 99 (All Days)

1 Peter 4:1-6 (44th Day)

1 Peter 4:7-11 (45th Day)

John 3:31-36 (46th Day)

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Some Related Posts:

Leviticus 9:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/devotion-for-the-twenty-third-and-twenty-fourth-days-of-easter-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Numbers 16:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/devotion-for-the-forty-seventh-day-of-easter-lcms-daily-lectionary/

1 Kings 8:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/devotion-for-august-25-and-26-lcms-daily-lectionary/

1 Peter 4:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/week-of-8-epiphany-friday-year-2/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/devotion-for-december-2-in-advent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/fortieth-day-of-lent-holy-saturday/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/week-of-proper-3-friday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/devotion-for-december-2-in-ordinary-time-lcms-daily-lectionary/

John 3:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/seventh-day-of-epiphany/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-the-fourth-sunday-of-advent-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/twelfth-day-of-easter/

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The LORD is great in Zion

and is high above all peoples.

Let them confess the name of the LORD,

which is great and awesome;

the LORD is the Holy One.

–Psalm 99:2-3, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Atonement liberates those who accept it and functions as an indictment of others.  C. H. Dodd explained this well in The Founder of Christianity (1970):

In [Jesus’] words and actions he made men aware of [the kingdom of God] and challenged them to respond.  It was “good news” in the sense that it meant opportunity for a new start and an unprecedented enrichment of experience.  But when a person (or a society) has been presented with such a challenge and declines it, he is not just where he was before.  His position is the worse for the encounter.  It is this that gives point to the tremendous warnings that Jesus is reported to have uttered about the consequences of rejection….The coming of the kingdom meant the open possibility of enhancement of life; it also meant the heightening of moral responsibility.

–Page 58 of the 1970 paperback edition

Hence we have another example of the juxtaposition of judgment and mercy.

Atonement, accomplished initially by animal sacrifices and an Aaronic priesthood then by Jesus, liberates people to glorify God and serve the needs of each other–to devote themselves to God and keep divine commandments.  There are many needs and therefore a host of specific ways to accomplish this goal.  One which a certain person might consider trivial another person might find vital, so may nobody say that he or she has little or nothing to offer.  No, grace has a multiplying effect on “minor” gifts and supplies us with “major” ones.  Nothing is too mundane for serving each other and glorifying God.

Part of the responsibility which free (yet not cheap) grace imparts to us is to pass grace along.  We might not be able to see God, but we can detect each other via senses.  Although none of us can solve every problem we detect, each of us can do something to ease some of them.  Each of us an do his or her part.  May each of us prove faithful in his or her part, responding positively to the call of God.

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-fourth-forty-fifth-and-forty-sixth-days-of-easter-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Little Gate to God   4 comments

Little Gate to God

Above:  Part of Rauschenbusch’s Text, from Pilgrim Hymnal (1935)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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Those who know me well are aware of the fact that I collect hymnals, especially old ones.  I have begun to explore a Christmas present, a copy of the 1916 Episcopal Hymnal, to great delight.  And the line of Pilgrim Hymnals interests me.  I have copies copyrighted 1912, 1935, and 1958.  Archive.org provides a method of obtaining a free electronic copy of the 1904 version.

Pilgrim Hymnals

Above:  The 1912, 1935, and 1958 Pilgrim Hymnals

Photograph Dated December 28, 2013 Common Era

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

All of these hymnals stand in the worship lineage of the United Church of Christ (UCC) (1957-), which adopted and authorized The New Century Hymnal in 1995.  As of yesterday, when I checked the UCC website most recently, the church publisher sold not only the 1995 hymnal and a Spanish-language hymnal, but The Hymnal of the United Church of Christ (1974), Pilgrim Hymnal (1958), and The Hymnal (1941) of the former Evangelical and Reformed Church (1934-1957).

Hymnals

Above:  The 1941, 1958, 1974, and 1995 Hymnals

Photograph Dated December 28, 2013 Common Era

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Of these volumes The Hymnal (1941) is the most impressive and Pilgrim Hymnal (1958) is also quite good.  The other two are regrettable books.  That is this Episcopalian’s opinion.

Pilgrim Hymnal 1935 Title

Above:  Part of the Title Page of Pilgrim Hymnal (1935)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Pilgrim Hymnal (1935) is a revision of Pilgrim Hymnal (1931).

Pilgrim Hymnal 1935 Copyright

Above:  The Copyright Notice in Pilgrim Hymnal (1935)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

This fact causes me to ponder the economics of hymnal revision, especially during the Great Depression.  I do recall that 1931 was the year the National Council of Congregational Churches of the United States (1871-1931) merged with the General Conference of the Christian Church (1890-1931) to form the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches (1931-1957).  My surmise, then, is that the 1935 revision was not an overhaul of the 1931 volume.  I find a hint of this in the Preface to the 1958 Pilgrim Hymnal:

This book was first conceived as a revision of the Pilgrim Hymnal of 1931, but the recent developments in hymnody, in church life, and in world history have made it necessary to plan our work in larger terms.

–page v

Pilgrim Hymnal 1958 Copyright

Above:  The Copyright Notice in Pilgrim Hymnal (1958)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

I have read online that the 1935 Pilgrim Hymnal contains the greatest concentration of Social Gospel hymns.  I, being a skilled hair splitter, wonder if the authors of those remarks have distinguished between the Social Gospel and Neo-Orthodoxy, both of which prioritize addressing and correcting societal ills.  Yet my study of the 1935 book does reveal many hymns about societal responsibility–especially on a national level.  And my study of the 1904 and 1912 predecessors reveals that those volumes were Social Gospel (defined narrowly) publications.

The theological orientation of the 1935 Pilgrim Hymnal becomes clear before hymn #1, “Holy, Holy, Holy!  Lord God Almighty.”  Opposite that hymn one finds a text by Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918), the great theologian of the Social Gospel:

In the castle of my soul

Is a little postern gate,

Whereat, when I enter,

I am in the presence of God,

In a moment, in the turning of a thought,

I am where God is.

This is a fact.

—–

The world of men is made of jangling noises.

With God is a great silence.

But that silence is a melody

Sweet as the contentment of love,

Thrilling as a touch of flame.

When I enter into God,

All life has a meaning.

Without asking I know;

My desires are even now fulfilled,

My fever is gone

In the great quiet of God.

My troubles are but pebbles on the road,

My joys are like the everlasting hills.

So it is when I step through the gate of prayer

From time into eternity.

When I am in the consciousness of God,

My fellowmen are not far off and forgotten,

But close and strangely dear.

Those whom I love

Have a mystic value.

They shine as if a light were glowing within them.

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So it is when my soul steps through the postern gate

Into the presence of God.

Big things become small, and small things become great.

The near becomes far, and the future is near.

The lowly and despised is shot through with glory.

God is the substance of all revolutions;

When I am in him, I am in the Kingdom of God

And in the Fatherland of my Soul.

Several aspects of that text perk up my theological ears.  The affirmation of the image of God in others is a timeless and sadly necessary message to repeat.  Today, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, is an especially appropriate time to do so.

The recognition of being in the Kingdom of God in the heightened state of awareness of being in the presence of God rings true with me.  To the writing and theology of Rauschenbusch I add the subsequent work and thought of C. H. (Charles Harold) Dodd, who explained Realized Eschatology in The Founder of Christianity (1970):

God, the Eternal, the omnipresent, can hardly be said to be nearer or farther off at this time or that.  If he is king at all, he is king always and everywhere.  In what sense his kingdom does not come; it is.  But human experience takes place within a framework of time and space.  There are particular moments in the lives of men and in the history of mankind when what is permanently true (if largely unrecognized)  becomes manifestly and effectively true.  Such a moment in history is reflected in the gospels….

–pages 56 and 57 of the 1970 paperback edition

The contextualization of one’s circumstances in the presence of God, paired with due awestruck humility (the fear of God, in traditional language) is a healthy spiritual attitude.

And the attachment to others in God is a profoundly Biblical attitude.

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we say you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”  And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

–Matthew 25:37-40, The New Revised Standard Version

The reverse situation is not happy, however:

Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

–Matthew 25:45, The New Revised Standard Version

There is also this from the Letter of James:

What good is it, my friends, for someone to say he has faith when his actions do nothing to show it?  Can that faith save him?  Suppose a fellow-Christian, whether man or woman, is in rages with not enough food for the day, and one of you says, “Goodbye, keep warm, and have a good meal,” but does nothing to supply that their bodily needs, what good is that?  So with faith; if it does not lead to action, it is by itself a lifeless thing.

–James 2:14-17, The Revised English Bible

Rauschenbusch understood these lessons well in the context of his Baptist congregation in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, New York.  He knew that the fact that tenements were such substandard housing was a sin, one which required correction.  He grasped the communal roots of Christianity and lived accordingly.  He was, however, overly optimistic about how much people could do to change the world.  Yet Rauschenbusch, despite his insufficient theology of sin–which Reinhold Niebuhr corrected–did call necessary and proper attention to the fact that the church has societal duties.  To those who would rebuff this idea, I quote the late Reverend Sherwood Eliot Wirt, a long-time associate of Billy Graham:

James was not wrong when he demanded that Christians show their faith by their works.  Jesus Christ was not wrong when he told his listeners in effect to stop sitting on their hands and to get to work doing God’s will.  He did not come to earth to split theological hairs, but to minister to a world in need and to save men out of it for eternity.  It is time the air was cleared.  To pit social action against evangelism  is to raise a phony issue, one that Jesus would have spiked in a sentence.  He commanded his disciples to spread the Good News, and to let their social concerns be made manifest through the changed lives of persons of ultimate worth.

The Social Conscience of the Evangelical (New York, NY:  Harper & Row, 1968), page 154

And is it not evidence of a changed life, for example, to oppose the exploitation and endangerment of people who have to live in substandard housing?  Should not all human housing meet certain basic standards?  Rauschenbusch understood this point well.

The unfortunate acceptance of the Roman social order–complete with slavery–which we find in much of the New Testament reflects the human authorship of those texts and the widespread expectation of the temporal proximity of the Second Coming of Jesus.  If one thinks that Christ will return soon and wipe away the social structures, problems, and injustices, focusing on individual spiritual preparation is a logical decision.  Yet nearly 2000 years have passed and many of my heroes of Christian faith have challenged and/or changed social systems for the better.  They have been salt and light, the hands and feet of Christ.

In contrast to those go-along-and-get-ready-for-Jesus parts of the New Testament I find others with a different message.  Revelation 18 and 19 come to mind immediately.  Babylon (read:  the Roman Empire, based on slavery, military conquest, and economic exploitation) has fallen.  Heaven rejoices.  Yet certain kings and merchants of the earth lament this change, for they have benefited from the vanquished political and economic arrangements.  Good news for the oppressed is bad news for the oppressors.  And God is the substance of that revolution.

So, O reader, are you one in a position to rejoice or to lament when contemporary Babylons–based on violence and/or economic and other forms of exploitation–fall?  And is your understanding of Christian responsibility overly individualistic?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 28, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS:  THE FEAST OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS