Archive for the ‘Covenantal Nomism’ Tag

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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Faith and Works, Part III   2 comments

Above:  Abraham’s Journey from Ur to Canaan, by József Molnár

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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Genesis 12:1-8

Psalm 105:4-11

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

John 4:5-26 (27-30, 39-42)

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Heavenly Father, it is your glory always to have mercy. 

Bring back all who have erred and strayed from your ways;

lead them again to embrace in faith

the truth of your Word and hold it fast;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

or

God our Father, your Son welcomed

an outcast woman because of her faith. 

Give us faith like hers,

that we also may trust only in our Love for us

and may accept one another as we have been accepted by you;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 18

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O God, whose glory is always to have mercy,

be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways,

and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith

to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word;

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), 34

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I grew up with a stereotype of Second Temple Judaism.  I learned that the Judaism of Christ’s time was a legalistic faith with works-based righteousness.  I learned a lie.

As E. P. Sanders thoroughly documented in his seminal work, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977), Second Temple Judaism taught Covenantal Nomism.  Salvation came by the grace of being born Jewish.  The maintenance of that salvation was a matter of habitually keeping the moral mandates in the Law of Moses.  The failure to do so resulted in dropping out of the covenant.  St. Paul’s objection to Second Temple Judaism was that it was not Christianity.  For the Apostle, the death and resurrection of Jesus changed everything.

The Law of Moses, which postdated Abraham, defined the lines one should not cross.  “Do this, not that,” was necessary guidance.  The application of timeless principles to culturally-specific circumstances was essential.

It remains so.  Unfortunately, many devout people fall into legalism by failing to recognize the difference between timeless principles and culturally-specific examples.

Faith, for St. Paul the Apostle, was inherently active.  He dictated, in Greek translated into English:

For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

–Romans 3:28, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The author of the Letter of James defined faith differently.  He understood faith as intellectual assent to a proposition.  Therefore, he reminded his audience that faith without works is dead (2:17) then wrote that Abraham’s works justified the patriarch (2:21f):

See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

–James 2:24, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Despite the superficial discrepancy between Romans and James, no disagreement exists.  When people use the same word but define it differently, they may seem to disagree when they agree.

Or justification may not be a factor at all.

Consider a different translation, O reader.  David Bentley Hart, The New Testament:  A Translation (2017) is a literal version that, in the words of its Eastern Orthodox translator, “provokes Protestants.”  Hart renders Romans 3:28 as:

For we reckon a man as vindicated by faithfulness, apart from observances of the Law.

“Justified” becomes “vindicated,” and “works” become “observances.”  Then we turn to James 2:24:

You see that a human being is made righteous by works, and not by faith alone.

“Justified” becomes “made righteous.”

Justification is a legal term.  “Vindicated” and “made righteous” are not.  That is a crucial distinction.  I acknowledge the existence of the matter.  Nevertheless, the point about using the same word and understanding it differently holds in both interpretations.

The reading from John 4 has become the subject of much misinterpretation, too.  For nearly two millennia, a plethora of Christian exegetes have sullied the reputation of the Samaritan woman at the well.  Yet Jesus never judged her.  And his conversation with her was the longest one recorded in the canonical Gospels.

Jesus violated two major social standards in John 4.  He spoke at length with a Samaritan and a woman he had not previously met.  Jesus was not trying to be respectable.  He had faith in the Samaritan woman at the well, who reciprocated.

For reasons I cannot fathom, God seems to have faith in people.  My opinion of human nature is so low as to be subterranean.  Observing the irresponsible behavior of many people (especially government officials who block policies intended to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic) confirms my low opinion of human nature.  Yet God seems to have faith in people.

May we reciprocate.  And may our deeds and words be holy.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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Adapted from this post

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Mutuality in God XII   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Moses

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 30:15-20

Psalm 119:1-16

1 Corinthians 2:6-13

Matthew 5:20-37

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Lord God, mercifully receive the prayers of your people. 

Help us to see and understand the things we ought to do,

and give us grace and power to do them;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 16

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O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers

of your people who call upon you,

and grant that they may understand the things they ought to do

and also may have grace and strength to accomplish them;

through Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 27

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Culturally-specific examples make timeless principles applicable, in context.  Outside of that context, the culturally-specific examples may seem confusing and may not apply.  Yet the timeless principles remain.  When reading any Biblical text, the question of context(s) is always relevant.  Knowing the difference between a timeless principle and a culturally-specific example thereof is essential.

Consider the reading from Matthew 5, for example, O reader.

  1. “Raca,” or “fool,” was an extremely strong insult.  We have counterparts in our contemporary cultures; these counterparts are unsuitable for quoting in a family-friendly weblog. How we think and speak of others matters.
  2. Divorce and remarriage, in well-to-do families, consolidated landholding, thereby taking advantage of deeply indebted families.  Such practices endangered societal and familial cohesion.  Some divorces are necessary, especially in cases of domestic violence and emotional abuse.  The innocent parties deserve happiness afterward, do they not?  I support them receiving that happiness.  Yet modern practices that endanger societal and familial cohesion exist.

The Gospel of Matthew makes clear that Jesus affirmed the Law of Moses.  He favored Torah piety.  Jesus also opposed those who taught the Torah badly.  Deuteronomy 30 and Psalm 119 taught Torah piety, too.  St. Paul the Apostle admitted that the Law of Moses was good.  His objection after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, was that Judaism was not Christianity, not that it was legalistic.  For St. Paul, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus changed everything.

We have now received not the spirit of the world but the Spirit of God himself, so that we can understand something of God’s generosity towards us.

–1 Corinthians 2:12, J. B. PhillipsThe New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972)

In your context, O reader, what does God’s generosity require you to do?  Returning to Matthew 5 (among other Biblical texts), God orders that we–collectively and individually–treat others properly.  How we think of them influences how we behave toward them, inevitably.

May we–you, O reader, and I–as well as our communities, cultures, societies, et cetera–in the words of Deuteronomy 30:19, choose life.  May we choose proper piety.  May we acknowledge and accept our complete dependence on God.  May we practice mutuality.  May we love one another selflessly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 25, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE CONVERSION OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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Adapted from this post

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Reception and Rejection in the Kingdom of God   Leave a comment

Above:  Herod’s Gate, Jerusalem

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XXXV

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Luke 13:22-30

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Two prominent Lucan themes exist in this passage.  They are: (1) the inclusion of Gentiles, and (2) the reversal of fortune.

Consider the narrative context, O reader:  Jesus was en route to Jerusalem to die.  For all the mixed metaphors, 13:22-30 is about the Jewish rejection of Jesus and the inclusion of faithful Gentiles.  Judgment and mercy coexist in 13:22-30, and many people will be shocked that they do not pass through the narrow door or gate to enjoy the heavenly banquet.

I reject anti-Semitism, an unjustifiable Christian tradition.  Let us–you, O reader, and I–be clear about that as we move forward in this post.  And let us not take the easy way out in (mis)interpreting 13:22-30.

The ultimate message of caution is not to presume on grace.  Our efforts to obey God matter, as faithful response.  They are spiritual fruits.  Yet passage through the narrow gate depends on grace.  Many people exclude themselves by closing themselves to receiving grace.

Consider the context circa 85 C.E., O reader.  The Church was young, small, and growing.  Christianity was still a Jewish sect, albeit one with many Gentile members.  Tensions between Jewish Christians and non-Christian Jews were rising.  And many Christian Jews argued that Gentile Christians must convert to Judaism.  Judaism and Christianity were careening toward a schism, which occurred in 137 C.E., during the Second Jewish War.

The four canonical Gospels, which exist in the shadow of the First Jewish War, include the language of invective, often aimed at non-Christian Jews.  I admit that some of this may be historical in relation to Jesus clashing with religious authorities.  Co-religionists arguing remains a current practice, after all.  Yet I, trained in historical methodology, know that people recount the past through the lens of their present day–circa 85 C.E. for Luke-Acts.  Therefore, we read some circumstances circa 85 C.E. projected onto Jesus’s time.

Invective disturbs me.  Read in historical context, it makes sense.  One can dispassionately interpret invective, especially if one does not have a dog in the fight, so to speak.  Yet, read out of context, invective becomes justification for bigotry and violence, as in the case of Christian anti-Semitism.  I understand the link between centuries of Christian anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

I dare not pretend to know who will enter through the narrow door or gate and who will not; I am not God.  Besides, not all people who profess of follow Jesus will make the cut anyway.  I do, however, notice a common thread in Covenantal Nomism (of Second Temple Judaism) and Luke 13:22-30:  Salvation is by grace, with the obligation to obey moral and ethical mandates.  Repeatedly and unrepentantly violating and disregarding those mandates leads to damnation.  God damns nobody, but people damn themselves

So, what are we supposed to make of grace?  In the U.S. South, we say that grace is like grits; it comes with everything.  (I dislike grits, by the way.)  I recall a t-shirt I wore until I washed it too many times.  It read:

GRACE HAPPENS.

BLOGA THEOLOGICA is a PG-related weblog, so I will not name what, in the vernacular, usually happens.  After that usual thing happens, grace happens.  Yet scripture keeps warning against behaving badly and presuming on grace; this is a theme in both Testaments.  Furthermore, as the the late Episcopal Bishop Henry Irving Louttit, Jr., said in my hearing:

Baptism is not fire insurance.

As for the Jews, I affirm that God’s covenant for them remains.  I, as a Gentile, come in via a second covenant.  Covenants are, by definition, about grace.  A covenant is not a contract; it is not a transactional relationship.

Grace is free yet not cheap.  Grace requires much of its recipients; they may even die because they fulfill these duties.  Grace also imposes the responsibility to extend grace to each other.  Saying and writing that last sentence is easy.  Living it is difficult, though.  But living grace is possible via grace.

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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Eschatological Ethics XII   1 comment

Above:  Isaiah Wall, United Nations, New York, New York

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 2:1-5

Psalm 122 (LBW) or Psalm 50:1-15 (LW)

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:37-44 or Matthew 21:1-11

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Stir up your power, O Lord, and come.

Protect us by your strength and

save us from the threatening dangers of our sins,

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 13

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Stir up, we implore you, your power, O Lord, 

and come that by your protection

we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins

and be saved by your mighty deliverance;

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 10

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When I compose a post based on lectionary readings, I prefer to write about a theme or themes running through the assigned readings.  The readings for this Sunday fall on the axis of divine judgment and mercy, in balance.  Hellfire-and-damnation preachers err in one direction.  Those who focus so much on divine mercy that they downplay judgment err in the polar opposite direction.

Isaiah 2:2-4, nearly identical to Micah 4:1-4 (or the other way around), predicts what, in Christian terms, is the fully-realized Kingdom of God.  The soaring, positive imagery of Isaiah 2:2-4 precedes divine judgment on the impious and impenitent–those who revel in the perils of their sins.  There is no place for such people in the fully-realized Kingdom of God.

Psalm 50 focuses on divine judgment.  YHWH is just, keeping faith with the “devoted ones” who have kept the moral mandates of the Law of Moses.  YHWH is just, prioritizing these moral mandates over ritual practices.  Rituals still matter, of course; they are part of the Law of Moses, too.  Yet these rites are never properly talismans, regardless of what people may imagine vainly.  People will still reap what they have sown.

Psalm 122 is a hymn of a devout pilgrim who had recently returned from Jerusalem.  The text fits neatly with Isaiah 2:1-4.  Psalm 122 acknowledges the faithfulness of God and the reality of “thrones of judgment.”

Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 21:1-11, and Matthew 24:37-44, like Isaiah 2:1-4, exist within the expectation of the establishment or unveiling of the fully-realized Kingdom of God.  We read of Jesus acting out Second Zechariah’s prediction of the Messiah’s arrival at Jerusalem at the fulfillment of time (Zechariah 9:9-10) in Matthew 21:1-11.  Romans 13:1-14 and Matthew 24:37-44 remind us to straighten up and fly right, so to speak.

St. Paul the Apostle identified the resurrection of Jesus as the dawn of a new historical era.  Naturally, therefore, he taught that salvation had come nearer.  St. Paul also expected Jesus to return soon–nearly 2000 years ago from our perspective, O reader.  St. Paul’s inaccurate expectation has done nothing to minimize the importance of his ethical counsel.

Forbidden fruits frequently prove alluring, perhaps because they are forbidden.  Their appeal may wear off, however.  This is my experience.  That which really matters is consistent with mutuality, the Law of Moses, and the Golden Rule.  That which really matters builds up the common good.  This standard is about as tangible as any standard can be.

Let us be careful, O reader, not to read into Romans 13:14 that which is not there.  I recall Babette’s Feast (1987), a delightful movie set in a dour, Pietistic “Sad Dane” Lutheran settlement.  Most of the characters are unwilling even to enjoy their food, literally a “provision for the flesh.”  One can live honorably as in the day while enjoying the pleasures of life.

Advent is a bifurcated season.  It begins with mostly somber readings.  By the end of Advent, however, the readings are more upbeat.  Just as divine judgment and mercy exist in balance, so do the two halves of Advent.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 5, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF ANTONIO LOTTI, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF FELIX MANZ, FIRST ANABAPTIST MARTYR, 1527

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

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

THE FEAST OF MARGARET MACKAY, SCOTTISH HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post

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The People’s Lament and God’s Response   Leave a comment

Above:  Valley of Hinnom

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART V

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Isaiah 63:1-66:24

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Isaiah 63:1-6 depicts God as a warrior taking vengeance on Edom (Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Obadiah; Isaiah 34:5-17).  For more about Edom, follow the links.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance, as in the previous section.

Most of Isaiah 63 and 64 consist of a grand tour of Biblical history, in the form of a lament in the voice of Third Isaiah.  It is a recounting of divine faithfulness, human faithlessness, and divine punishment.  Third Isaiah’s questions of why God has allowed terrible events to occur and not prevented them stand the test of time.  One may ask them, for example, about millennia of anti-Semitic violence, especially the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, Isaiah 64 concludes on a combination of trust and uneasiness.  This makes sense, too.

The divine response, at the beginning of Isaiah 65, is consistent with Covenantal Nomism.  Those who disregarded the mandates of the covenant consistently and unrepentantly dropped out of the covenant and condemned themselves.  God will punish sins, we read.  We also read that God will also regard faithful servants.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

In the new divine order (65:1-66:24), circumstances will be idyllic and the relationship between God and the faithful population will be close.  The process of getting to that goal is underway, we read.  The old prophecies of heaven on earth will come to pass, we read.  And Jews and Gentiles will recognize the glory of God, we read.  Yet not all will be puppies and kittens, we read:

As they go out they will see the corpses of those who rebelled against me, where the devouring worm never dies and the fire is not quenched.  All mankind will view them with horror.

–Isaiah 66:24, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Isaiah 66:24 refers, literally, to Gehenna, in the Valley of Hinnom, outside the walls of Jerusalem.  Commentaries tell me that, when Jewish Biblical authors (perhaps including Third Isaiah) sought a properly terrifying metaphor for Hell, they used the Jerusalem garbage dump, where corpses of criminals either burned or decomposed, without receiving burial.  Yet, in Isaiah 66:24 (perhaps of later origin than 66:22-23, the bodies of those who rebel against God will neither burn nor decompose.

Regardless of when someone composed 66:24, as well as whether 66:23 originally ended the chapter, I push back against the desire to end the Book of Isaiah on an upbeat note.  I read that, in Jewish practice (as in The Jewish Study Bible), people reprint 66:23 after 66:24, to have an upbeat ending:

And new moon after new moon,

And sabbath after sabbath,

All flesh shall come to worship Me

–said the LORD.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Yet 66:23-24, taken together, balance divine judgment and mercy.  Brevard S. Childs, conceding the possibility of the later composition of 66:24, argues that 66:24 fits the theme of

the division between the righteous and the wicked.

Isaiah (2001), 542

This division exists elsewhere in Third Isaiah, too.

In spite of God’s new heavens and death, the exaltation of Zion, and the entrance of the nations to the worship of God, there remain those outside the realm of God’s salvation.

–Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (2001), 542

They remain outside the realm of God’s salvation because they have condemned themselves.  As C. S. Lewis wrote, the doors of Hell are locked from the inside.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey though Third Isaiah.  I invite you to remain by my side, so to speak, as I move along next to the Book of Joel.  This journey through the Hebrew prophetic books is much closer to its conclusion than to its beginning.  Nevertheless, much to learn remains.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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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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The Beginning of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes’s Persecution of the Jews   Leave a comment

Above:  Mina of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART VII

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1 Maccabees 1:20-64

2 Maccabees 5:1-6:17

4 Maccabees 4:15-26

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Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Reigned 175-164/163 B.C.E.)

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The First Book of the Maccabees establishes two years, according to the Hellenistic/Seleucid calendar:  143 (a.k.a. 169 B.C.E.) and 145 (a.k.a. 167 B.C.E.).

The account in 1 Maccabees differs from those in 2 Maccabees and 4 Maccabees.  The version in 1 Maccabees does not mention Jason, the former High Priest.  Also, the account in 4 Maccabees mistakes Antiochus IV Epiphanes for the son of the late King Seleucus IV Philopator.  Historical accounts tell us they were brothers.

Anyhow, Jason, who had bought the High Priesthood, had lost that office to Menelaus, who had outbid him.  Jason tried, by violent means, to get his old job back.  He failed to become the High Priest yet succeeded in causing many people to die.

As one reads the account of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes entering and profaning the Temple in Jerusalem, one may legitimately ask a certain question:  How could he succeed?  Read 3 Maccabees 1:8-2:24; 2 Maccabees 1:13-17; and 2 Maccabees 3:22-28, O reader.  How could King Antiochus IV Epiphanes succeed in 1 Maccabees 1:54f and 2 Maccabees 5:15f?  I offer no answers, for I have none.

King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, having converted the westernmost hill of Jerusalem into a citadel that held from 167 to 141 B.C.E. (see 1 Maccabees 13:49-50), imposed Hellenism–on pain of death–upon the land.  This was his way of trying to create unity in the Seleucid Empire.  If ever there were a reason no to submit to human authority, such oppression was it.

Yet many in Israel found strength to resist, taking a determined stand against the eating of any unclean food.  They welcomed death and died rather than defile themselves and profane the holy covenant.  Israel lay under a reign of terror.

–1 Maccabees 1:62-64, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Keeping the covenant was crucial to pious Jews.  Their salvation came via grace–birth into chosen people.  Their duty was to obey the Law of Moses.  That was how they retained their place in the covenant.  Those who impiously and repetitively ignored the ethical and moral obligations of the Law of Moses dropped out of the covenant.  I have summarized Covenantal Nomism for you, O reader.  Covenantal Nomism was a characteristic of Second Temple Judaism.

How seriously do you, O reader, take your obligations to God and your fellow human beings?

Next, I will write about early martyrdoms, described in 2 Maccabees and 4 Maccabees.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 5, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF JAPAN, 1597-1639

THE FEAST OF SAINT AVITUS OF VIENNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JAMES NICHOLAS JOUBERT AND MARIE ELIZABETH LANGE, FOUNDERS OF THE OBLATE SISTERS OF PROVIDENCE

THE FEAST OF SAINT JANE (JOAN) OF VALOIS, COFOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF THE ANNUNCIATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PHILEAS AND PHILOROMUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 304

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Kudzu and the Kingdom of God   Leave a comment

Above:  Kudzu, Atlanta, Georgia

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Trinity, 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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Almighty God, we beseech thee, show thy mercy unto thy humble servants,

that we who put no trust in our own merits may not be dealt with

after the severity of thy judgment, but according to thy mercy;

through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth

with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever One God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 231

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Job 14:1-5

Psalms 112 and 113

Romans 10:1-21

Luke 17:20-33

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The readings from the Hebrew Bible cohere well, speaking in Job 14:1-5, reflects on the brevity of a human lifespan, even a relatively long one.  Psalms 112 and 113, taken together, encourage people to imitate God in behaving justly toward other people, such as the poor.  Our lives are brief, but they can be meaningful and positive.  We can use our time to leave the world better than we found it.  We can live according to the Golden Rule, by grace.  To do so is to respond faithfully to God.  Obey divine laws, Covenantal Nomism teaches.  By doing so, one retains one’s place in the covenant.

St. Paul the Apostle’s critique of Second Temple Judaism, contrary to popular misconception, was not that it was a legalistic, works-based righteousness religion.  No, his critique was that Second Temple Judaism lacked Jesus.  For St. Paul, Jesus was the game changer of all game changers.

The partially realized Kingdom of God has long been present on the Earth.  Certain events have made it more obvious than it was, though.  The life of Jesus on the Earth was a series of such events.  The partially realized Kingdom of God has set the stage for the fully realized Kingdom of God, still in the future.

God remains faithful.  Many people remain faithless.  The Golden Rule continues to be a teaching more people prefer to quote than to practice.  “None” continues to be the fastest-growing religious affiliation in much of the world.  Jesus keeps facing rejection.

Yet the Kingdom of God remains like kudzu, a plant commonplace where I live.  Kudzu grows where it will.  And God will win in the end.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 1, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT HENRY MORSE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1645

THE FEAST OF SAINT BENEDICT DASWA, SOUTH AFRICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR, 1990

THE FEAST OF CHARLES SEYMOUR ROBINSON, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF GIOVANNI PIERLUIGI DA PALESTRINA, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER AND MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIGEBERT III, KING OF AUSTRASIA

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A Covenant People, Part VIII   1 comment

Above:  Image of COVID-19, by the Centers for Disease Control

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 17:1-22 or Ruth 4:1-17

Psalm 143

Revelation 21:1-6a

John 15:1-17

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The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) includes part of Genesis 17 only one–on the Second Sunday in Lent, Year B.  The RCL guts the chapter, though.  The RCL assigns only verses 1-7 and 15-16.  As Matthew Thiessen observes in Jesus and the Forces of Death:  The Gospels’ Portrayal of Ritual Impurity Within First-Century Judaism (2020), the RCL avoids the verses that talk about circumcision.  One who hears a RCL-based sermon on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 hears

a very carefully edited, essentially Christianized (or de-Judaized) version of Genesis 17.

–2

The Humes lectionary, in contrast, fills the hole the RCL creates.

Without chasing a proverbial rabbit, I repeat here what I have written elsewhere, in another lectionary-based devotion, recently:  Within Judaism, over time, as reflected in the Bible and in non-canonical Jewish texts, a range of opinions regarding circumcision existed.  Judaism has never been a monolithic religion, despite what you, O reader, may have heard or read.

Circumcision was a common practice in many cultures in the area of antiquity.  In the case of the Jews, it was significant for more than one reason.  Hygiene was one reason for circumcision.  The practice was also a fertility rite, a ritual of initiation into the covenant people, and an act of ritual purification.  The practice, perhaps most importantly, functioned as a marker of identity in God and the divine covenant.

Circumcision is a sign–a covenant I believe remains in effect.  I, as a Gentile, function under a second covenant.

Wholeness and restoration–collectively and individually–are possible only in God, via a covenant.  As in Ruth 4, God frequently acts through people to create wholeness and restoration.  God also acts directly often.

…there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness.  The world of the past has gone.

–Revelation 21:4b, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

The “world of the past” in Revelation 21:4b remains the world of the present.  The COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim and damage lives and livelihoods.  Tears, death, mourning, and sadness remain, in a heightened reality, the cruel companions of victims of the pandemic.  One point of Revelation is the imperative of keeping faith and focusing on the light while the darkness threatens to overwhelm with despair and hopelessness.

One joins a covenant by grace.  One drops out of a covenant by works of darkness.  That is classical Jewish Covenantal Nomism.  In other words, remain faithful to God, who is faithful.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu told a story about a Jew in a Nazi death camp.  A guard was mocking a pious Jew, forced to perform the degrading, unpleasant, and disgusting task of cleaning the toilet.  The guard asked, 

Where is your God now?

The Jew answered,

He is beside me, here in the muck.

Where is God during the COVID-19 pandemic?  God is sitting beside the beds of patients.  God is walking beside essential workers.  God is grieving with those who mourn.  God is present with those working to develop or to distribute vaccines.  God is with us, here in the muck.

God is faithful.  May we be faithful, too.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 29, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LYDIA, DORCAS, AND PHOEBE, COWORKERS OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2021/01/29/devotion-for-proper-25-year-d-humes/

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