Archive for the ‘Cheap Grace’ Tag

Good News and Bad News, Part II   1 comment

Above:  The Parable of the Net

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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1 Kings 3:5-12

Psalm 119:129-136

Romans 8:28-30

Matthew 13:44-52

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O God, your ears are always open to the prayers of your servants. 

Open our hearts and minds to you,

that we may live in harmony with your will

and receive the gifts of your Spirit;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 26

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O God, the Protector of all who trust in you,

without whom nothing is strong and nothing is holy,

increase and multiply your mercy on us,

that with you as our Ruler and Guide,

we may so pass through things temporal,

that we lose not the things eternal;

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), 71

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Redeem me from human oppression….

–Psalm 119:134a, The Revised New Jerusalem Bible (2019)

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Good news and bad news come together.

  1. The reading from 1 Kings 3 marinates in hindsight and the wasted potential of King Solomon, who had come to power like Michael Corleone, settling disputes with murder.  One may reasonably speculate that King Solomon had already cast his die before 1 Kings 3.  Nevertheless, hope springs eternal, to quote a cliché.
  2. We read a portion of Psalm 119, in which the author extols God’s commandments in the context of human oppression.
  3. Single Predestination (Romans 8:28-30) is to Heaven.  Those not so predestined have the witness of the Holy Spirit available to them.
  4. We read that, at the end of the age, the angels will separate the wicked from the righteous.  This is good news for the righteous and bad news for the wicked.  Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.

I paid little attention to predestination when I was a Methodist.  My theology has shifted, however, into Anglican-Lutheranism, which includes Single Predestination.  After growing up ignoring passages such as Romans 8:28-30, I have embraced them.

The good news of Single Predestination, paired with the witness of the Holy Spirit, is grace.  Those predestined receive one form of grace.  Those not predestined receive another form of grace.  Their free will to accept or reject the witness of the Holy Spirit exists because of grace.  Everything boils down to grace.

We human beings do not have to earn everything.  We cannot earn grace.  If we accept it, we also accept its demands on our lives.  Grace is free, not cheap.

Good news and bad news come together.  We mere mortals make our bad news and some of our good news.  God brings us good news.  Are we receptive to it?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYL0R

JUNE 18, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM BINGHAM TAPPAN, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER. POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ADOLPHUS NELSON, SWEDISH-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF BERNARD MIZEKI, ANGLICAN CATECHIST AND CONVERT IN SOUTHERN RHODESIA, 1896

THE FEAST OF JOHANN FRANCK, HEINRICH HELD, AND SIMON DACH, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF RICHARD MASSIE, HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF VERNARD ELLER, U.S. CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN

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Adapted from this post

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Reconciliation, Part IV   1 comment

Above:  Sheep

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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Exodus 19:2-8a

Psalm 100

Romans 5:6-11

Matthew 9:35-10:8

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God, our maker and redeemer,

you have made us a new company of priests

to bear witness to the Gospel. 

Enable us to be faithful to our calling

to make known your promises to all the world;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 24

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Almighty and everlasting God,

give us an increase of faith, hope, and love;

and that we may obtain what you have promised,

make us love what you have commanded;

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), 65

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The mandate of the people of God–Jews and Gentiles alike–is to be, in the language of Exodus 19:6,

…a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985, 1999)

Individually and collectively agreeing to that is relatively easy.  Following through on that commitment is relatively difficult, though.  It is impossible without grace.  We are sheep–prone to go astray with little or no prompting.  We need reconciliation to God and one another, as well as to ourselves.

God has acted to effect reconciliation.  That, then, leaves the human side of the relationship.  Grace is free, not cheap; it imposes the obligation of faithful response to God.  How we treat our fellow human beings is bound up with our response to God.

Do not imagine, O reader, that I have worked out all these details in my life.  Do not think that I have achieved an advanced stage of spiritual development.  I know myself too well to assert that I have done what I described in the first two sentences of this paragraph.  No, I muddle through, accumulating a mixed record daily.  Therefore, I write this post to myself as much as I write it to you.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 3, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CAROLINE CHISHOLM, ENGLISH HUMANITARIAN AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIE-LÉONIE PARADIS, FOUNDER OF THE LITTLE SISTERS OF THE HOLY FAMILY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MAURA AND TIMOTHY OF ANTINOE, MARTYRS, 286

THE FEAST OF SAINT TOMASSO ACERBIS, CAPUCHIN FRIAR

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Adapted from this post

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Mutuality in God XIV   1 comment

Above:  Figs

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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Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28

Psalm 31:1-5 (6-18), 19-24 (LBW) or Psalm 4 (LW)

Romans 3:21-25a, 27-28

Matthew 7:(15-20) 21-29

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Lord God of all nations,

you have revealed your will to your people

and promised your help to us all. 

Help us to hear and to do what you command,

that the darkness may be overcome by the power of your light;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 24

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O God,

whose never-failing providence sets in order all things

both in heaven and on earth,

put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things;

and give us those things that are profitable for us;

through Jesus Christ, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 62

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Jewish Covenantal Nomism, present in Deuteronomy 11 and in the background of Romans 3, establishes the tone for this post.  Salvation for Jews comes by grace; they are the Chosen People.  Keeping the moral mandates of the Law of Moses habitually is essential to retaining that salvation.

Love, therefore, the LORD your God, and always keep His charge.  His laws, His rules, and His commandments.

–Deuteronomy 11:1, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985,1999)

Perfection in these matters is impossible, of course.  Therefore, repentance is crucial daily.  In broader Biblical context, God knows that we mere mortals are “but dust.”  Do we?

Grace is free, not cheap.  Nobody can earn or purchase it, but grace does require much of its recipients.  Thin, too, O reader, how much it cost Jesus.

Both options for the Psalm this Sunday contain the combination of trust in God and pleading with God.  I know this feeling.  Maybe you do, too, O reader.

St. Paul the Apostle’s critique of Judaism was simply that it was not Christianity.  As E. P. Sanders wrote:

In short, this is what Paul finds wrong in Judaism:  it is not Christianity.

Paul and Palestinian Judaism:  A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (1977), 552

For St. Paul, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus changed everything.

I, as a Christian, agree.  However, I also affirm the continuation of the Jewish covenant.  I trust that God is faithful to all Jews and Gentiles who fulfill their ends of the covenant and mourns those who drop out.  Many of those who have dropped out may not know that they have done so.

The good fruit of God, boiled down to its essence and one word, is love.  Recall the First Letter of John, O reader:  Be in Christ.  Walk in the way Jesus walked.

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.

–1 John 5:2-3a, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002), 203

And how could we forget 1 John 4:7-8?

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God; God is love.

Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

This point brings me back to Psalm 31.  In verse 6 or 7 (depending on versification), either God or the Psalmist hates or detests idolators.  Translations disagree on who hates or detests the idolators.  In context, the voice of Psalm 31 is that of a devout Jews falsely accused of idolatry; he protests against this charge and defends his piety and innocence.  Human beings are capable of hating and detesting, of course.  I reject the argument that God hates or detests anyone, though.

Salvation comes via grace.  Damnation comes via works, however.  God sends nobody to Hell.  As C. S. Lewis wrote, the doors to Hell are locked from the inside.

The Right Reverend Robert C. Wright, the Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta, says to love like Jesus.  Consider, O reader, that Christ’s love is self-sacrificial and unconditional.  It beckons people to love in the same way.  This divine love, flowing through mere mortals, can turn upside-down societies, systems, and institutions right side up.

However, anger, grudges, and hatred are alluring idols.  Much of social media feeds off a steady diet of outrage.  To be fair, some outrage is morally justifiable.  If, for example, human trafficking does not outrage you, O reader, I do not want to know you.  But too much outrage is spiritually and socially toxic.  To borrow a line from Network (1976):

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!

That kind of rage is a key ingredient in a recipe for a dysfunctional society.

We human beings all belong to God and each other.  We are responsible to and for each other.  May we think and act accordingly, by grace and for the common good.  God commands it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 1, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PHILIP AND JAMES, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post

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The Faithfulness of God, Part V   1 comment

Above:  The Return from Egypt, by James Tissot

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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Isaiah 63:7-9

Psalm 111

Galatians 4:4-7

Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

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Almighty God, you wonderfully created

and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature. 

In your mercy, let us share the divine life of Jesus Christ

who came to share our humanity,

and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 14

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Direct us, O Lord, in all our actions by your gracious favor,

and further us with your continual help that in all our works,

begun, continued, and ended in your name,

we may glorify your holy name and

finally by your mercy receive eternal life;

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), 18

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Isaiah 63:7-64:11 is a psalm of lament.  For this week, we read the first three verses.  For more context, O reader, keep reading.  The theme of human (collective) faithlessness, in contrast to divine faithfulness, is prominent.  That theme runs through the other readings, too.

Yet some people are faithful.  They may be Jews or Zoroastrians (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23).  Either way, they do what God commands.  They may be Jews or Gentiles (Galatians 4:4-7).  They are heirs–literally, sons of God.  (Sons inherited in St. Paul the Apostle’s cultural context.  Daughters did not.)

Grace is free, not cheap.  Just ask God–Jesus, in particular, O reader.  Grace also requires much of its recipients.  Grace transforms its recipients and the world, by extension.  Grace requires faithful response to God, whom nobody should mistake for a divine vending machine.  Yet certain results are predictable.  As logicians remind us:

If x, then y.

In personal matters, I speak and write only for myself, and aspire to do only that.  In my experience, God and grace have seemed closest during dark times.  I have grown the most, spiritually, when the proverbial bottom has fallen out of my life.  God and grace may have been as close during better times, but I have perceived them as being closer during worse times.  Maybe the light merely seemed brighter in contrast to the darkness.

I acknowledge my dependence on grace.  Daily I establish the goal to be the best possible version of myself.  I, being a mere mortal, fail, of course.  But striving for that goal is worthwhile.  It is something.  God can work with something.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 14, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACRINA THE ELDER, HER FAMILY, AND SAINT GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS THE YOUNGER

THE FEAST OF ABBY KELLEY FOSTER AND HER HUSBAND, STEPHEN SYMONDS FOSTER, U.S. QUAKER ABOLITIONISTS AND FEMINISTS

THE FEAST OF EIVIND JOSEF BERGGRAV, LUTHERAN BISHOP OF OSLO, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND LEADER OF THE NORWEGIAN RESISTANCE DURING WORLD WAR II

THE FEAST OF KRISTEN KVAMME, NORWEGIAN-AMERICAN HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF RICHARD MEUX BENSON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST; CHARLES CHAPMAN GRAFTON, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, CO-FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST, AND BISHOP OF FOND DU LAC; AND CHARLES GORE, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WORCESTER, BIRMINGHAM, AND OXFORD; FOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE RESURRECTION; THEOLOGIAN; AND ADVOCATE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE AND WORLD PEACE

THE FEAST OF SAVA I, FOUNDER OF THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH AND FIRST ARCHBISHOP OF SERBS

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Adapted from this post

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The Unpardonable Sin and the Leaven of the Pharisees   Leave a comment

Above:  Woe Unto You, Scribes and Pharisees, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XXX

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Luke 12:1-12

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Leaven usually has a negative connotation in the Bible; leaven frequently symbolizes corruption.  The connotation is negative in Luke 12:1, where leaven represents hypocrisy.

As I feel the need to repeat ad nauseam, due to the pervasive nature of stereotypes, I have no interest in lambasting long-dead Pharisees and feeling morally smug.  Moral hypocrisy is a leaven that corrupts all of us.  Do not beat up on the Pharisees, O reader; look in the mirror instead.  I recall the late Henry Irving Louttit, Jr., when he was the Rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta, Georgia, describing the Pharisees as the good, churchgoing people of their time.  We conventionally pious people may be more similar to the Pharisees than we like to imagine.

12:2-9 describe fearless confession of faith, different from hypocrisy.  Verses 2 and 1 may seem truer in the age of smartphones and the internet than the recent past, much less antiquity.

I read 12:2-9 and wonder how those verses must have resounded with listeners and readers circa 85 C.E., when the Gospel of Luke was new.  I ponder the context of sporadic, regional persecution, the reality at the time.  This section of the Gospel of Luke resonates differently with me than it does with those who suffer persecution for their faith.  Many people have a persecution complex; I guess it makes them feel especially holy.  Many other people, however, know the experience of persecution.

The top priority of following Jesus, then en route to die, repeats.

The Lucan version of the unpardonable sin occurs in 12:10, divorced from certain critics accusing him of being in league with Satan (Luke 11:14-22; Matthew 12:25-32; Mark 3:23-30).  In the context of the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, the unpardonable sin–blasphemy against the Holy Spirit–is not being able to distinguish between good and evil.  The unpardonable sin, in the context of the Gospel of Luke, is apostasy and moral corruption.  In these contexts, taken together, the unpardonable sin is not being open to God’s truth.  God does not condemn one for committing the unpardonable sin.  No, one condemns oneself by committing it.

This point brings me back to the beginning of this post.  Grace is free, not cheap; it makes demands of its recipients.  For many Christians, that price has included persecution and/or martyrdom.  Hypocrisy and moral corruption may lead to committing the unpardonable sin.  Grace seeks us.  It pursues us.  May we welcome it and accept its demands.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 6, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

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Followers of Jesus   4 comments

Above:  Icon of the Ministry of the Apostles

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XV

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Luke 6:12-19; 10:1-24

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INTRODUCTION

Jesus had many disciples.  There were, for example the Twelve apostles (6:13), literally, persons sent out.  May we not forget the seventy(-two) disciples he sent out in 10:1-24.

Some numbers were simultaneously literal and symbolic:

  1. Twelve symbolized the restoration of Israel.  There had been twelve tribes of Israel, with ten of them lost to assimilation.  The Twelve apostles were the nucleus of the new people of God.
  2. Seventy or seventy-two (depending on the manuscript of the Gospel of Luke one believes) calls back to Numbers 11:16, 25.  One may recall the story.  Moses had selected seventy elders with whom to share his burden of leadership.  The spirit of God had fallen upon the seventy elders plus two other men.  According to Luke 10:1-24, Jesus was the new Moses, and his seventy or seventy-two other disciples helped to lead the new exodus.

We have encountered the the themes of exile and exodus in Luke-Acts already.  Was the ministry of Jesus an exodus?  Was living under Roman occupation a form of exile?

Think about it, O reader.

THE TWELVE

Comparing the names of the Twelve, according to the canonical Gospels, yields superficially different names in some lists:

  1. The Synoptic tradition lists St. Bartholomew; the Johannine tradition lists St. Nathanael.
  2. Tradition associates St. Matthew Levi the tax collector (Luke 5:27f), as the same man, but both “Bartholomew” and “Matthew” mean “gift of God.”
  3. Tradition associates St. Bartholomew with St. Nathanael, as the same man.
  4. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark list St. Thaddeus.  The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles list St. Judas, son of James, instead.

None of this disturbs me; a person can have more than one name.  In the New Testament alone, I point to some examples:

  1. St. Simon (Peter), a.k.a. Cephas;
  2. St. (Joseph) Barnabas;
  3. St. (John) Mark; and
  4. (Joseph) Barsabbas, who nearly filled the vacancy Judas Iscariot left.

The scholarly debate whether the Twelve were literally twelve in number marginally interests me.  Besides, the burden of proof is on those who argue that the Twelve consisted of more than twelve men.  I prefer to shave with Ockham’s Razor.

THE KINGDOM OF GOD

Luke 10:1-16 and 10:17-20 bear a striking similarity to Luke 9:1-6 and 9:10.

“…the kingdom of God is very near to you.”

–Luke 9:9b, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

In other words, the partially-realized Kingdom of God is present.  The fully-realized Kingdom of God remains in the future tense, at least from a human perspective.  According to Realized Eschatology, the Kingdom of God does not arrive; it is.  Given that God exists outside of time, so does the Kingdom of God.  Certain events make the reality of the Kingdom of God more apparent and, in so doing, up the ante.  Consider the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as Jesus of Nazareth.  Upping the ante increases the consequences for rejection and heightens responsibility.  Grace is free, not cheap.  One has a responsibility to respond favorably to grace, which imposes demands.

MY COMPLEX FAITH

I have asked myself a hypothetical question:  Would I have followed Jesus if I had met him in person during his earthly life?  I have concluded that I do not know.  Hypothetically, I may have found him objectionable, given my hypothetical attachment to certain “received wisdom.”  Or, hypothetically, I may have been receptive to Jesus’s teachings.

I wonder because I am a complex human being.  My faith is complex, not simple.  On one hand, I have a rebellious streak a mile wide, so to speak.  I delight in poking my proverbial fingers into the equally proverbial eyes of authority figures.  They have it coming!  I am, obviously, neither an authoritarian, a conservative, nor a likely member of any cult.  However, I balance my rebelliousness with a healthy respect for order.  Rebellion must serve a constructive purpose; it must resist and hopefully destroy an unjust social and political order.  This is why Luke-Acts and Revelation appeal to me; they speak of God turning the upside-down social order right side-up.  The unjust human order must fall before the divine order can commence.

As I age, I simultaneously moderate and become more radical.  My theological approach moderates; I remain a liberal yet have moved slightly to the right.  Yet, as I continue to study the Bible and internalize its ethics and morals (read in historical and cultural contexts, of course), the more dissatisfied I become with the human order and the Religious Right (of whom I have never been a fan).  The radicalism of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus appeals to me.

So, I wonder how I, hypothetically, would have responded to Jesus in person.  I question whether I would have favored order and routine or whether I would have supported the creative destruction God brings.

I invite you, O reader, to ask yourself the same question and to answer it honestly.  Then take the result of that spiritual self-examination to God.

STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF FAITH

I, as a Christian at the end of 2021, owe much to the earliest followers of Jesus.  I stand on their shoulders.  My faith exists in part because of their faith.

How many people will stand your shoulders of faith, O reader?  How many will stand on mine?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 28, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST (TRANSFERRED)

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Christ, Outcasts, and Fasting   Leave a comment

Above:  The Calling of St. Matthew, by Caravaggio

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XIII

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Luke 5:27-39

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I respect and consult the scholarship of Dr. E. P. Sanders.  His work on Second Temple Judaism has overturned old and inaccurate Gentile Christian stereotypes, which persist, sadly.  Nevertheless, I reject one of his key points regarding the disciples.  He is not sure that the “Twelve” were really twelve in number.  I admit to the superficial differences in lists of the Twelve in the Synoptic Gospels.  However, I cite examples of Biblical figures with more than one name.  Major examples from the New Testament alone include Saul of Tarsus/St. Paul the Apostle, St. Simon (Peter)/Cephas, St. (Joseph) Barnabas, St. (John) Mark, and (Joseph) Barsabbas.  Therefore, I have no difficulty accepting Levi as St. Matthew and St. Bartholomew as St. Nathanael, according to tradition.  However, I am not oblivious to both “Bartholomew” and “Matthew” meaning “gift of God.”  And St. Thaddeus” (from the Marcan and Matthean lists) seems to have been St. Judas, son of James (from the Lucan list).  Calling him St. Thaddeus makes abundantly clear that he was not Judas Iscariot.

For they that sleep with dogs, shall rise with fleas.

–John Webster, The White Devil, Act 5, Scene 1 (1612)

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A good meal is not what one eats, but with whom one eats.

–A Russian proverb, which a cosmonaut quoted on July 17, 1975, during the Apollo-Soyuz Mission

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Dining and fasting are central to these verses.  With whom one dined mattered socially.  Jesus seems not to have cared about rising with proverbial fleas; he dined with notorious sinners, including Roman tax thieves, who lived on the excess funds they collected, and who knew scorn.

Many Christians would react negatively if they observed their pastor(s) dining with socially undesirable people.  As I keep repeating ad nauseum, beating up verbally on long-dead scribes and Pharisees is easy.  It is like fishing with dynamite.  Examining oneself spiritually and avoiding self-righteousness is essential and challenging, though.

Grace scandalizes the self-righteous.  It erases the boundary between the respectable and the outcasts.  This makes the self-righteous feel uncomfortable.  Grace also imposes the obligation of faithful response.  Grace is free, not cheap.  We read of Levi’s initial faithful response.

Fasting is a legitimate spiritual practice. That is not the question in Luke 5:33-39.  Recall, O reader, that Jesus fasted.  No, in 5:33-39, the Pharisaic criticism that Christ’s disciples did not fast as the Pharisees did (twice a week) indicates a cheap shot.  (Even many modern Christians take cheap shots sometimes.)  The implication of Jesus’s response is that his critics failed to recognize that something new had come in him.

Metaphorically, how often do we–you, O reader, and I–focus on preserving the old, supposedly orthodox wineskin and not welcoming what God is doing?  Falling into complacent pseudo-orthodoxy is at least as easy as self-righteously heaping scorn upon long-dead scribes and Pharisees while imagining is nothing like them.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 28, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST (TRANSFERRED)

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Posted December 28, 2021 by neatnik2009 in Luke 5

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False Teachers, Part III   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART XII

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Jude

2 Peter 2:1-22

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The second chapter of Second Peter expands on the Epistle of Jude.  Almost all of the points in Jude exist in 2 Peter 2.

One may recognize the thematic relationship of 2 Peter 1 to Jude and 2 Peter 2.  False teachers, evil desires, and spiritually undisciplined lives provide the connective tissue.

We also read another repetition of the Biblical motif that divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  In other words, we will reap what we have sown.  Grace is free, not cheap; it mandates a faithful response.  Yes, God imposes mandates.  Freedom is a gift to use properly, not to abuse and misuse.

References to the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha abound in Jude and 2 Peter 2.  I choose to explain the references:

  1. Jude 5 refers to Numbers 14 and 26:64-65.  Apostasy is possible, and carries with it the loss of salvation.
  2. Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4 refer to Genesis 6:1-4.  An elaborate version of the story of the “watchers” exists in 1 Enoch 6-19 (especially chapter 10).
  3. Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:6-7 refer to Genesis 19:1-25, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The “unnatural vice” is rape, whether heterosexual or homosexual, and of a person or an angel.  Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:6-7 present the scenario opposite of Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4, in which angels lusted after human women.
  4. The combination of the preceding two points indicates the grave consequences of violating God’s intended order for creation.
  5. Jude 9, drawing on Exodus 2:11-12, indicates familiarity with the Assumption/Testament of Moses, a text from the first century C.E.  Between one-third and one-half of that text is missing.  The lost portion includes the section depicting St. Michael the Archangel disputing with Satan over the body of Moses and quoting Zechariah 3:2:  “May the Lord rebuke you!”  Even angels do not rebuke Satan in Zechariah 3:2, Jude 9, and the Assumption/Testament of Moses.  The lesson in Jude 9 is that, if we mere mortals revile angels, we sin.
  6. Jude 11 refers to Cain (Genesis 4:8-16), Balaam (Numbers 16:1-25), and Korah (Numbers 31:16).  2 Peter 2:15-16 refers to Balaam and his talking donkey (Numbers 22:28-33).  Rebellion against God leads to punishment and reproof.
  7. 2 Peter 2:5 refers to Genesis 6:17.
  8. Jude 14-15 refers to 1 Enoch 1:9.

These false teachers did more than teach falsehoods; they behaved scandalously at agape meals (Jude 12, 2 Peter 2:13-14).  These false teachers doomed themselves and disrupted faith community.

I approach Jude and 2 Peter 2 from a particular background.  I grew up feeling like the resident heretic.  My heresies were asking “too many” questions, being an intellectual, accepting science and history, harboring Roman Catholic tendencies, and not being a Biblical literalist.  Some in my family regard me as a Hell-bound heretic.  I embrace the label “heretic.”  I even own a t-shirt that reads,

HERETIC.

I approach the label “false teacher” cautiously.  One ought to make accusations with great caution, and based on evidence.  False teachers abound.  I am not shy about naming them and their heresies.  These include the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, Prosperity Theology, and the excesses of Evangelicalism.  The list is long.  The standards of orthodoxy and orthopraxy are as simple and difficult as the Incarnation, crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus; the Atonement; and the Golden Rule.  Proper love–in mutuality–builds up.  It does not tear people down.  Proper orthodoxy maintains divine standards and is generous, not stingy.  It is loving, not hateful.  And it leads to humility before God and human beings.

I affirm that I am doctrinally correct about some matters and wrong regarding others.  I also affirm that I do not know when I am wrong and when I am right.  The life of Christian discipleship is about trust in God, not about certainty.  The quest for certainty, when faith–trust–in God is called for is an idolatrous and psychologically comforting effort.  Proper Christian confidence–grounded in Christ alone–says:

I may be wrong, but I act as if I am right.  I can neither prove nor disprove this article of faith, but I act as if I am right.

May you, O reader, and I trust in the faithfulness of God.  May we walk humbly with God and live with our fellow human beings in loving, respectful mutuality.  We can do all of the above only via grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 30, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT HONORIUS, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF JOANNA P. MOORE, U.S. BAPTIST MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF MARY RAMABAI, PROPHETIC WITNESS AND EVANGELIST IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF RICHARD CHALLONER, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC SCHOLAR, RELIGIOUS WRITER, TRANSLATOR, CONTROVERSIALIST, PRIEST, AND TITULAR BISHOP OF DOBERUS

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Introduction to the General Epistles   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART I

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This post opens a new series, one about the General (or Catholic or Universal) Epistles.  This category dates to circa 325 C.E., from the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius of Caesarea.

MY GERMANE OPERATIONAL BIASES AND ASSUMPTIONS

Know, O reader, that my academic background is in history.  I think historically, regardless of the topic du jour.  The past tenses constitute my usual temporal perspective.  Some people tell me that I ought not to think this way when considering the Bible or a television series that ceased production years or decades ago.  These individuals are wrong.  I defy them.

Some people tell me that the historical backgrounds of Biblical books do not matter or are of minimal importance.  The messages for today is what matters, they say.  The messages for today do matter; I agree with that much.  Yet the definition of those messages depend greatly on the historical contexts from which these texts emerged.  With regard to the General Epistles, whether one assumes relatively early or relatively late composition affects the interpretation.

I operate from the assumptions that (a) James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude are pseudonymous, and (b) they date to relatively late periods.  These two assumptions relate to each other.  The first assumption leads to the second.  In terms of logic, if x, then y.  Simultaneously, internal evidence supports the second assumption, which leads backward, to the first.

CONTEXTS

The General Epistles, composed between 70 and 140 C.E., came from particular societal and political contexts.  The Roman Empire was strong.  Religious persecutions of Christianity were mostly sporadic and regional.  Christianity was a young, marginalized, sect (of Judaism, through 135 C.E.) unable to influence society and the imperial order.  Christian doctrine was in an early phase of development.  Even the definition of the Christian canon of scripture was in flux.

I, reading, pondering, and writing in late 2021, benefit from centuries of theological development, ecumenical councils, and the definition of the New Testament.  I, as an Episcopalian, use scripture, tradition, and reason.  I interpret any one of these three factors through the lenses of the other two.  I, as a student of the past, acknowledge that scripture emerged from tradition.

The importance of theological orthodoxy was a major concern in the background of the General Epistles.  That made sense; ecclesiastical unity, threatened by heresy, was a major concern for the young, small, and growing sect.  Yet, as time passed and the Church’s fortunes improved, the definition of orthodoxy changed.  Some of the Ante-Nicene Fathers (notably Origen) were orthodox, by the standards of their time.  After 325 C.E., however, some of these men (notably Origen) became heretics postmortem and ex post facto.

Orthopraxy was another concern in the General Epistles.  Orthopraxy related to orthodoxy.  The lack of orthopraxy led to needless schisms and the exploitation of the poor, for example.  As time passed and the Church became dominant in parts of the world, the Church fell short on the standard of orthopraxy, as defined by the Golden Rule.  As Alfred Loisy (1857-1940), an excommunicated modernist Roman Catholic theologian, lamented:

Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God and what came was the Church.

Lest anyone misunderstand me, I affirm that theological orthodoxy exists.  God defines it.  We mere mortals and our theologies are all partially heretical.  We cannot help that.  Salvation is a matter of grace, not passing a canonical examination.  Also, the Golden Rule is the finest standard according to which to measure orthopraxy.  Orthopraxy is a matter of faithful response, which grace demands.  Grace is free, not cheap.

BRIEF INTRODUCTIONS FOR EACH OF THE GENERAL EPISTLES

The Epistle of James dates to 70-110 C.E.  The analysis of Father Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) suggests that composition in the 80s or 90s was probable.  The “epistle,” actually a homily, used the genre of diatribe to address Jewish Christians who lived outside of Palestine.  James is perhaps the ultimate “shape up and fly right” Christian text.  James may also correct misconceptions regarding Pauline theology.

The First Epistle of Peter, composed in Rome between 70 and 90 C.E., is a text originally for churches in northern Asia Minor.  The majority scholarly opinion holds that First Peter is a unified text.  A minority scholarly opinion holds that 1:3-4:11 and 4:12-5:11 are distinct documents.

The Epistle of Jude, composed between 90 and 100 C.E., may have have come from Palestine.  Jude was also a source for Second Peter, mainly the second chapter thereof.

The Second Epistle of Peter is the last book of the New Testament composed.  Second Peter, probably composed between 120 and 140 C.E., addresses a general audience in eastern Asia Minor.  The second chapter expands on Jude.

The First Epistle of John is not an epistle.  No, it is a homily or a tract.  First John, composed circa 100 C.E., belongs to the Johannine tradition.  Anyone who has belonged to a congregation that has suffered a schism may relate to the context of First John.

The author of the Second and Third Epistles of John (both from circa 100 C.E.) may have written First John.  Or not.  “The Elder” (the author of Second and Third John) speaks down the corridors of time in the contexts of ecclesiastical schisms and personality conflicts.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

I invite you, O reader, to remain with me as I embark on a journey through the Epistle of James first.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 19, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 20:  THE SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

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

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLARENCE ALPHONSUS WALWORTH, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND HYMN WRITER; CO-FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE (THE PAULIST FATHERS)

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE RODAT, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF VILLEFRANCHE

THE FEAST OF WALTER CHALMERS SMITH, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM DALRYMPLE MACLAGAN, ARCHBISHOP OF YORK, AND HYMN WRITER

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The Third Oracle of Haggai   Leave a comment

Above:  Haggai, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART V

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Haggai 2:10-19

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Jerusalem, December 18, 520 B.C.E.–a seemingly unremarkable date.

In the third oracle (2:10-19), Haggai offered an explanation for why the situation in Jerusalem had not improved, despite the resumption of construction of the Second Temple.  Holiness was not transferrable, but ritual impurity was (Numbers 5:2; 6:6; 9:10; 19:11, 13).  Tainted and unacceptable offerings to God made the work of the people unclean, impure (verse 14).  The problem was with the altar upon which people laid the offerings.  Priests were using the altar, despite not having properly purified it ritually (Ezra 3:107; 1 Esdras 5:47-73).

Nevertheless, December 18, 520, B.C.E., marked a turning point in the people’s relationship with God:

Consider, from this day onwards,…:  will the seed still be diminished in the barn?  Will the vine and the fig, the pomegranate and the olive still bear no fruit?  Not so; from this day I shall bless you.

–Haggai 2:18-19, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Yet read Zechariah 1:18-21/2:1-4, set two months later.

I am an Episcopalian and a ritualist.  Therefore, I grasp the importance of dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s.

However, I am also a Gentile to whom ritual purity and impurity are foreign concepts.  These are concepts about which I have read, especially in regard to whether Jesus accepted them and how to interpret them in healing stories involving Jesus.  These are also concepts I have rethought, especially in regard to Jesus, after reading Matthew Thiessen, Jesus and the Forces of Death (2020).  Studying Haggai 2:10-19, I must dig into the text and read regarding the Biblical background of the ritual purification of altars.  Jewish sources teach me much.

This is a rule binding on your descendants for all time, to make a distinction between sacred and profane, between clean and profane, and to teach the Israelites all the decrees which the LORD has spoken to them through Moses.

–Leviticus 10:9b-11, The Revised English Bible (1989)

When we move from one context to another, a timeless principle remains:

What is at stake is attitude.

–W. Eugene March, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VII (1996), 728

Approaching God reverently and respectfully is essential.  Rules dictate how to do so.  So be it.  This is a serious matter in the Hebrew Bible.  This explains why Leviticus 12-15 describe how to dispose of ritual impurity of various types.  This is why Leviticus 16 pertains to the annual purging of the sacred precincts of impurity.  This is why Leviticus 1-7 go into great detail about types of offerings to God.  This is why Exodus 35-38 detail the construction of the Tabernacle.  This is why Exodus 39 focuses on the making of the priests’ vestments.  I respect all this, even though I enjoy eating pork.

I also notice that God changed the relationships, for the people’s benefits.  People were still supposed to use a purified altar, of course.

Grace is free, not cheap.

For the sake of completeness and intellectual honesty, however, I note that the first vision of Zechariah (Zechariah 1:8-17) contradicts the pressing of the giant reset button in Haggai 2:10-19.  I will get to Zechariah 1:8-17 in due time.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 12, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JASON OF TARSUS AND SOSIPATER OF ICONIUM, COWORKERS OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE AND EVANGELISTS OF CORFU

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