Archive for the ‘Cheap Grace’ Tag

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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The Conclusion of Second Isaiah   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART X

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Isaiah 54:1-55:13

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The theme of the Babylonian Exile as deserved punishment is dominant in Second Isaiah.  The Fourth Servant Song (52:13-52:12) contradicts that theme, which returns in chapters 54 and 55.  So do the motif of God taking the covenant people back, renewing the covenantal relationship, ending the exile, and renewing Jerusalem (personified as a woman).  The soaring poetry of Isaiah 55 contains certain familiar verses, such as:

But as the heavens are high above the earth,

So are My ways high above your ways

And My plans above your plans.

–Isaiah 55, 9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Notwithstanding the theological whiplash of reading the Fourth Servant Song within the context of Second Isaiah, Second Isaiah concludes on a note of grace and mercy.  One cannot earn grace; is free.  But it is not cheap.  Faithful response to God is proper.  Isaiah 55:6-7 indicates that not everyone will repent of wickedness, and therefore, receive divine pardon.  Despite human faithlessness, though, divine faithfulness holds.  And we mere mortals still reap what we sow.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through Second Isaiah.  I invite you to remain with me as I move along to the Book of Obadiah, just one chapter long.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MYLES HORTON, “FATHER OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT”

THE FEAST OF SAINTS EUMENIOUS AND PARTHENIOS OF KOUDOUMAS, MONKS AND FOUNDERS OF KOUDOMAS MONASTERY, CRETE

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPH OF DAMASCUS, SYRIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1860

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS SPIRA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF RUED LANGGAARD, DANISH COMPOSER

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Prophecy and Prophets   1 comment

Above:  Ezekiel, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART VIII

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Ezekiel 12:21-14:11

Ezekiel 15:1-8

Ezekiel 20:45-22:31 (Anglican and Protestant)

Ezekiel 21:1-22:31 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

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In the ancient Near East, certain assumptions were ubiquitous.  Two of these were:

  1. the multiplicity of deities, and
  2. the defeat of B’s gods by A’s gods when A conquered B.

Yet YHWH remained unconquered when Judah fell.  As the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.) approached, come claimed that the prophecies of this event were for the distant future.  They were wrong (12:21-28).  Some (false) prophets of peace predicted peace and security for Judah (13:1-16).  They spoke for themselves, not for God.  Many people resorted to sorcery (13:17-23).  They were wrong.  Idolatry abounded, as usual (14:1-11).  Jerusalem was bound for destruction (15:1-8), regardless of what anyone said or desired in the final years before 586 B.C.E.  And God remained sovereign, regardless of what any human power did.  The Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire was the sword of the LORD, after all (20:45-21:17/21:1-22, depending on versification).  Both Judah and Ammon were destined for destruction, but a remnant of Judah would survive (21:23-22:31/21:18-22:31, depending on versification).

I will return to the prophecies of divine judgment against Ammon (already in Amos 1:13-15; Jeremiah 49:1-16; Ezekiel 21:33-37/21:28-32, depending on versification) when I cover Ezekiel 25:1-7.

I, as a Christian, affirm that “God is love,” as I read in 1 John 4:16.  Reading the entire verse is crucial, of course.  In the context of the indwelling of Jesus, we read:

Thus we have come to know and believe in the love which God has for us.

God is love; he who dwells in love is dwelling in God, and God in him.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

God is love, not a cosmic plush toy.  Grace is free, not cheap.

In Jewish terms, salvation comes by grace, just as it does in Christian terms.  In Jewish terms, salvation comes by birth into the Chosen People, the covenant people.  The covenant includes moral mandates.  Persistently and unrepentantly violating moral mandates causes people to drop out of the covenant.

God is love, not a cosmic plush toy.  Grace is free, not cheap.  And people read what they have sown.

JUNE 26, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ISABEL FLORENCE HAPGOOD, U.S. JOURNALIST, TRANSLATOR, AND ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANDREA GIACINTO LONGHIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF TREVISO

THE FEAST OF PHILIP DODDRIDGE, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF THEODORE H. ROBSINSON, BRITISH BAPTIST ORIENTALIST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF VIRGIL MICHEL, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ACADEMIC, AND PIONEER OF LITURGICAL RENEWAL

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Ezekiel’s Vision of the Destruction of Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART VI

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Ezekiel 8:1-11:23

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Ezekiel 8:1-11:13, the product of more than one person, contains some unusual editorial choices and odd shifts of attention.  I mention that matter to get it out of the way, so that nobody can legitimately claim that I do not know it.  Now that I have gotten that matter out of the way, I focus on themes, details, and the application thereof.

The figurer who looked like a man (or fire, depending on translation) in 8:2 is the divine Presence, Ezekiel’s guide.  This figure recurs in 40:3f.

The date of the vision in 8:1-11:13 is September 592 B.C.E.

Idolatry recurs as a sin of the people of Judah.

We read that, contrary to what many people think, God has not abandoned Judah–yet–and does see what people are doing (9:9).

Above:  Ezekiel’s Vision, by William Blake

Image in the Public Domain

Chapter 10 reads like a redux of Chapter 1, with some differences.

God departs Judah in Chapter 11.

We read of the divine promise of restoration and cleansing of exiles already in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  We read that those still in Judah are doomed (11:41-21).  We read that God has moved to the exiles in Babylon (11:23).

Ezekiel 11:21 cautions that divine renewal of the exiles is not automatic; it requires human vigilance.  Grace is free, not cheap.

Ezekiel 11:17-21 is thematically similar to Jeremiah 31:33-34; Jeremiah 32:39; Ezekiel 18:31; Ezekiel 36:26.  We read that, in an ideal future, by divine action, disobedience to God will cease to be an option.

In Hebrew prophetic literature, as well as in the Revelation to John, divine faithfulness is never in doubt, from the author’s perspective.  Also, divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.  Creative destruction by God makes way for the establishment for the new, divine order.  In Christian terms, God must destroy the old, corrupt order before the fully-realized Kingdom of God can become visible on the Earth, from a human perspective.  As C. H. Dodd reminds me from the printed page and his grave, the Kingdom of God is; it does not come.  Yet, from a human point of view, certain events make its presence more palpable than it used to be.

Another idea, frequently repeated in the Bible–especially Hebrew prophetic books–is that human sins have consequences.  We human beings condemn ourselves.  We leave God.  We are the faithless ones.  We are arrogant; we do not stand in awe of God.  We read what he have sown.

Yet grace remains.  As the great Southern Baptist theologian Will Campbell said:

We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.

And our only hope is in God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE NATIVITY OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

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Prophecies During the Syro-Ephraimite War   1 comment

Above:  King Ahaz of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART VII

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Isaiah 7:2-9:1 (Anglican and Protestant)

Isaiah 7:1-8:23 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

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The Syro-Ephraimite War (734-732 B.C.E.) constitutes the background of Isaiah 7:1-8:23/7:1-9:1 (depending on versification).  Read 2 Kings 15:27-31; 2 Kings 16:1-19; and 2 Chronicles 28:1-26.  A brief summary of that war follows.

Aram was the chief rival to the Assyrian Empire.  King Rezin of Aram (r. 750-732 B.C.E.) and King Pekah of Israel (r. 735-732 B.C.E.) had formed an anti-Assyrian alliance.  King Ahaz of Judah (r. 743/735-727/715 B.C.E.) refused to join this alliance.  Israelite and Aramean forces waged war on Judah and besieged Jerusalem.  They wanted to depose him and replace him with a monarch who would join their alliance.  Ahaz turned to the Assyrian Empire, not God.  The Assyrian Empire conquered parts of Aram and Israel in 732, and reduced those kingdoms to vassalage.  Then, in 722 and 720 B.C.E., respectively, the Assyrian Empire conquered Israel and Aram.

Isaiah 7:16, often reduced to a prophecy of the birth of Jesus and removed from historical context, is most likely a prediction of the birth of the future king Hezekiah, in historical context.  The young woman (an almah) of 7:14 was of marriageable age.  Almah (not “virgin” in Hebrew) became parthenos (“virgin”) in the (Greek) Septuagint.  New Testament writers who quoted the Hebrew Bible quoted it in Greek, not Hebrew.

“Emmanuel” means “God with us.”  God is with us even when we are not with God.  God is with us even when we pretend to be pious, and thereby weary God (7:10-16).

Recognizing subsequent layers of editing in 7:1-8:23/7:1-9:1 (depending on versification) ought not to obstruct understanding of messages for today in these verses.  King Ahaz, who had allied himself with the Assyrian Empire, became a vassal of the Assyrian monarch, King Tiglath-pileser III (r. 745-727 B.C.E.).  King Ahaz, despite himself, should have trusted in God.  King Ahaz had gravely erred, and he and his subjects suffered because of his faulty judgment.  (The imagery of shaving “the hair of the feet” in 7:20 refers to pubic hair, by the way; “feet” is frequently a euphemism for genitals in the Hebrew Bible.)  The disgrace of the people in the latter verses of Chapter 7 and throughout Chapter 8 will be great.  Yet a remnant would survive and return from the Babylonian Exile.

Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance in Isaiah 7:1-8:23/7:1-9:1 (depending on versification).  Divine fidelity to divine promises does not prevent punishment of populations for violations of the covenant.  That divine fidelity does, however, prevent complete destruction of the Hebrew people for violations of the covenant.

I am a Gentile and a Christian.  I know some fundamentalists and Evangelicals who doubt my Christian bona fides, but I am a Christian.  The covenant with the Jews remains in effect, I contend.  I, as a Gentile, come under a separate covenant, one defined by Jesus.  These Old Testament principles about covenant-related responsibilities apply to Christians, also, via Jesus.  We Christians are a branch grafted onto the tree of faith, and the Jews are, as Pope John Paul II called them, our elder siblings in faith.

These chapters also recognize that people benefit from the good decisions of their rulers and suffer from the bad decisions of their rulers.  The emphasis is on the latter, of course.  Leadership matters.  May those who can choose their leaders, do so wisely, in all places and at all times.  And may all leaders decide wisely, whenever and wherever they are.

God is with us.  We can never escape from the presence of God.  Yet are we with God?  We all benefit from grace.  We all depend upon grace.  How many of us also accept the moral responsibilities that accompany grace?  Grace is free yet not cheap.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 30, 2021 COMMON ERA

TRINITY SUNDAY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOAN OF ARC, ROMAN CATHOLIC VISIONARY AND MARTYR, 1430

THE FEAST OF APOLO KIVEBULAYA, APOSTLE TO THE PYGMIES

THE FEAST OF JOACHIM NEANDER, GERMAN REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPHINE BUTLER, ENGLISH FEMINIST AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LUKE KIRBY, THOMAS COTTAM, WILLIAM FILBY, AND LAURENCE RICHARDSON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1582

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Wickedness   1 comment

Above:  The Stoning of Saint Stephen, by Rembrandt Van Rijn

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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Genesis 6:1-8 or Acts 22:1-22

Psalm 125

Revelation 2:12-17

John 6:41-59

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The Humes lectionary divides Genesis 6 across two Sundays:  Today’s portion of Genesis 6 includes the debut of the Nephilim in the Bible.  This is an example of pagan folklore adapted for scriptural purposes.  And Richard Elliott Friedman, in his Commentary on the Torah (2001), describes stories of the Nephilim as being elements of a larger story

widely separated, distributed across great stretches of the narrative.

–33

According to Dr. Friedman, Genesis 6:1-5 links to Numbers 13:33, Joshua 11:21-22, and 1 Samuel 17:4.  Dr. Friedman describes Goliath of Gath as the last of the Nephilim, the final one to go down to defeat.

The big idea in Genesis 6:1-8 is the increasing wickedness of the human race.  “Wicked” and “wickedness” are words many use casually, with little or not thought about what they mean.  The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1973) offers various definitions of “wicked.”  The most helpful one, in this context is:

evil or morally bad in principle or in practice; sinful; vicious; iniquitous.

In Jewish theology, wickedness (or one form of it) flows from the conviction that God does not care what we do, therefore we mere mortals are on our own.  The dictionary’s definition of wickedness as being evil in principle or practice is helpful and accurate.  Moustache-twirling villains exist in greater numbers in cartoons than in real life.  Most people who commit wickedness do not think of themselves as being wicked or or having committed wickedness.  Many of them think they have performed necessary yet dirty work, at worst.  And many others imagine that they are doing or have done God’s work.

One may point to Saul of Tarsus, who had the blood of Christians on his hands before he became St. Paul the Apostle.  One lesson to take away from St. Paul’s story is that the wicked are not beyond repentance and redemption.

On a prosaic level, each of us needs to watch his or her life for creeping wickedness.  One can be conventionally pious and orthodox yet be wicked.  One can affirm that God cares about how we treat others and be wicked.  One can sin while imagining that one is acting righteously.

Unfortunately, some of the references in Revelation 2:12-17 are vague.  Time has consumed details of the Nicolaitian heresy, for example.  And the text does not go into detail regarding what some members of the church at Pergamum were doing.  According to Ernest Lee Stoffel, The Dragon Bound:  The Revelation Speaks to Our Time (1981), the offense was probably a perceived license to sin, predicated on salvation by grace–cheap grace, in other words.  Grace is cheap yet never cheap.

Moral compartmentalization is an ancient and contemporary spiritual ailment.  The challenge to be holy on Sunday and on Monday remains a topic on the minds of many pastors.  Related to this matter is another one:  the frequent disconnect between private morality and public morality.  Without creating or maintaining a theocracy, people can apply their ethics and morals in public life.  The main caveat is that some methods of application may not work, may be of limited effectiveness, and/or may have negative, unintended consequences.  I feel confident, O reader, in stating that the idealistic aspects of the movement that gave birth to Prohibition in the United States of America did not not include aiding and abetting organized crime.  But they had that effect.

By grace, may we seek to avoid wickedness and succeed in avoiding it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROBERTO DE NOBOLI, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BERARD AND HIS COMPANIONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS IN MOROCCO, 1220

THE FEAST OF EDMUND HAMILTON SEARS, U.S. UNITARIAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF GUSTAVE WEIGEL, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF RICHARD MEUX BENSON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND COFOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST; CHARLES CHAPMAN GRAFTON, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, COFOUNDER 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; AND ADVOCATE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE AND WORLD PEACE

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2021/01/16/devotion-for-proper-12-year-d-humes/

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Vocation and Spiritual Maturity, Part II   1 comment

Above:  Icon of the Assumption of Elijah

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Sunday After the Ascension, Year 2

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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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O God, the King of glory, who through the resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ,

hast opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers;

leave us not comfortless, we beseech thee, in our weary mortal state,

but send unto us the Holy Spirit, the Comforter,

to guide us into the way of truth and peace;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 178

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2 Kings 2:1-15

Psalm 42

Colossians 3:1-11

Matthew 28:16-20

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There is only Christ:  he is everything and he is in everything.

–Colossians 3:11b, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

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For most of the Gospel of Matthew, Christ’s mission was t Jews only.  Certain Gentiles expressed interest, though.  These were some of the God-fearers, who rejected the paganism of their cultures and recognized YHWH as the one true God.  At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus issued the Great Commission:  to go out into all the world, to baptize, and to make disciples in all parts of the world.

Grace is free yet not cheap.  Accepting it imposes obligations upon one.  These include maturing spiritually, as in Colossians 3:5-11.  The list there is representative, not comprehensive.  It points to how we think about and behave toward one another.

Such spiritual maturity also thrives at the high points of life and endures in the depths of despair.  Psalm 42 comes from exile.  Exile can assume many forms.  The longer the COVID-19 pandemic continues, for example, the more it feels like exile to many people, including me.  Souls feel cast down.  They feel thirsty for God.  Spiritual maturity helps one endure the wilderness of despair.

God loves all people and beckons them.  God even predestines some percentage of them to Heaven yet none to Hell.  The extravagant love of God functions as a model for we mere mortals.  Do we love people unconditionally?  Do we love those who are very different from us?  I confess that, at my best, my love falls far short of divine love.  Yet I trust in God, whose grace suffices.  And I strive to do better.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 12, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BENEDICT BISCOP, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT OF WEARMOUTH

THE FEAST OF SAINT AELRED OF HEXHAM, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT OF RIEVAULX

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY PUCCI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF HENRY ALFORD, ANGLICAN PRIEST, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR, LITERARY TRANSLATOR, HYMN WRITER, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND BIBLE TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGUERITE BOURGEOYS, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME

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Human Agents of God, Part II   1 comment

Above:  Jesus Before Pilate, First Interview, by James Tissot

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:

Hosea 14:1-9 (Protestant and Anglican)/Hosea 14:2-10 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Psalm 34

Colossians 3:12-4:6

John 18:28-40

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He who is wise will consider these words,

He who is prudent will take note of them.

For the paths of the LORD are smooth;

The righteous can walk on them,

while sinners stumble on them.

–Hosea 14:10, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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I would feel better about Colossians 3:12-4:6 if it did not accept slavery.

Repent and return to God, Hosea 14, urges.  Accept divine forgiveness and act accordingly.  Forgive each other.  After all, everybody needs forgiveness.  And, although grace is free, it is not cheap.  Become a vehicle of grace.  Remain a vehicle of grace.  And do not be an in instrument of injustice, as Pontius Pilate was.  That is my composite summary of the four readings.

And, of course, never accept cultural practices that run afoul of the Golden Rule.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 8, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT THORFINN OF HAMAR, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF A. J. MUSTE, DUTCH-AMERICAN MINISTER, LABOR ACTIVIST, AND PACIFIST

THE FEAST OF ARCHANGELO CORELLI, ROMAN CATHOLIC MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF NICOLAUS COPERNICUS AND GALILEO GALILEI, SCIENTISTS

THE FEAST OF HARRIET BEDELL, EPISCOPAL DEACONESS AND MISSIONARY

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2021/01/08/devotion-for-the-fifth-sunday-in-lent-year-d-humes/

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