Archive for the ‘Epiphany’ Tag

Spiritual Blindness, Part III   Leave a comment

Above:  Jesus Healing the Blind Man, by Eustache Le Sueur

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Grant, we beseech thee, merciful God, that thy church, being gathered together in unity by the Holy Spirit,

may manifest thy power among all peoples, to the glory of thy name:

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with thee and the same Spirit,

one God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 120

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Jeremiah 8:4-7

1 Peter 2:7-10

Luke 18:31-43

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The theme of rebellion against God unites the three assigned readings.  This is especially appropriate liturgically on the Sunday preceding Lent, with its focus on confession of sin and on repentance.

I advise you, O reader, to read all of Jeremiah 8, with its vivid poetic language about divine judgment.  That is collective punishment for collective sin.  Western civilization, with its individualism, gives short shrift to collective responsibility, sin, and punishment.  The Hebrew Bible is not a product of Western civilization, though.  Likewise, “you” is plural in 1 Peter 2:7-10.

The blind man in Luke 18:35-43 was more perceptive than the Apostles and the crowd at Jericho.  His story, set in contrast to 18:31-34 by the author of the Gospel of Luke, has long pointed out the spiritual blindness of the other people.

Spiritual and moral blindness is both collective and individual; they influence each other.  We, as members of society, are subject to societal influences.  But what is society but people?  When enough people change their minds, societal norms shift.  We, collectively and individually, need to move toward a state in which the Golden Rule is normative and nothing–not even citations of religious laws–is an acceptable reason to violate the Golden Rule.  This will not usher in the Kingdom of God, for only God can do that.  This will, however, create societies with less spiritual and moral blindness.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 2, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL SOULS/THE COMMEMORATION OF ALL FAITHFUL DEPARTED

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Being Good Soil, Part III   Leave a comment

Above:  The Parable of the Sower

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Grant, we beseech thee, merciful God, that thy church,

being gathered together in unity by thy Holy Spirit,

may manifest thy power among all peoples, to the glory of thy name;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with thee and

the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 120

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Amos 8:11-12

1 Peter 2:1-6

Luke 8:4-15

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Hell is real–a reality, not a place with geography and coordinates–I affirm.  I also argue that God sends nobody there.  No, people send themselves there.

The reading from Amos 8 is one of the more difficult passages of the Bible.  Divine punishment is in full strength, punishing collective disregard for God with divine silence.  The divine judgment consists of giving people in times of trouble what they desire in times of affluence and spiritual indifference.  In other words, be careful what you wish for; you may receive it.

The word of God (what God says) is readily available.  It is proverbial seed in the story usually called the Parable of the Sower yet properly the Parable of the Four Soils.  The sower sows seeds in the usual manner for that time and place.  The emphasis in the parable is on the types of soil and on the fate of the weeds cast upon them.  The story encourages us to be good soil, to be receptive to the words of God.

Being good soil entails focusing on God, not on distractions, or idols.  The definition of “idol” is functional; if an object, activity, or idea functions as an idol in one’s life, it is an idol for once.

Perhaps the major idol these days is apathy.  In much of the world the fastest-growing religious affiliation is “none.”  Atheism and its militant variation, antitheism (to use Reza Aslan’s word) are chic.  Ironically, many atheists and antitheists know more about certain religions and holy books than many adherents of those religions, with their corresponding sacred texts.  These atheists and antitheists also understand less simultaneously.

God remains in charge, though.  Whether that ultimately comforts or terrifies one depends on one.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 2, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL SOULS/THE COMMEMORATION OF ALL FAITHFUL DEPARTED

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The Faithfulness and Generosity of God, Part VI   Leave a comment

Above:  The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Almighty God, who hast given us thy Word as a lamp for our feet:

keep thy Word ever before us, so that, in times of doubt or temptation,

by the light of thy truth we may walk, without stumbling,

in the way of thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 120

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Jeremiah 9:23-24

2 Peter 1:16-21

Matthew 20:1-16

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The issue is not, “who is my neighbor?” but “can we recognize that the enemy might be our neighbor and can we accept this disruption of our stereotypes?”

–Amy-Jill Levine in The Jewish Annotated New Testament (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2011), 123

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Jesus’ interlocutor, the Jewish lawyer, holds a restrictive definition of “neighbor”:  his question, “Who is my neighbor” presupposes that some people are not neighbors.

–Michael Fagenblat, “The Concept of Neighbor in Jewish and Christian Ethics,” 542, in The Jewish Annotated New Testament (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2011)

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…the lawyer…attempted to save face by asking a further question, “Just a minute.  Exactly who is my neighbor?”…He was really asking, “How far does my responsibility go here?  What, in fact, constitutes neighborliness, and who qualifies to receive the love called for in the Law?”  He might have been asking, “What is the least I am required to do to get by?”…Jesus, however, turned in the other direction altogether and said, “You’re to think of yourself as a neighbor.”  The question isn’t, “Is such and such a person worthy of my love?” but rather, “Am I willing to take what I have, what I know, and what I can do and place all this at the disposal of another person’s needs or growth?”

–John Claypool, Stories Jesus Still Tells:  The Parables (New York:  McCracken Press, 1993), 101-102, 105

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Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance in the Bible.  God expects much of us and enables us to fulfill those expectations.  We usually experience God as the Holy Spirit, probably.  That, at least, is the theologically approved term, according to Christian orthodoxy.  I, without straying into heresy, note that the Greek word we translate as “person,” as in “First Person of the Trinity,” “Second Person of the Trinity,” and “Third Person of the Trinity,” means “masks.”

Our one acceptable glory is in God, who is generous, according to the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.  The workers must work, of course, but all receive a daily wage, even if they work a partial work day.  The Kingdom of Heaven, we read, is like that employment situation in the vineyard.  Contrary to the ubiquitous Dalman consensus, the Kingdom of Heaven is not a reverential circumlocution, as Jonathan Pennington writes.  No, the Kingdom of Heaven is the fully realized reign/realm of God on the Earth.  No, the Kingdom of Heaven is apocalyptic.

God’s ways are not ours, overall.  They overlap occasionally, by accident, perhaps.  Extravagant divine extravagance, as in the parables, certainly contradicts the corresponding way of the world.  One function of the rhetoric of the Kingdom of Heaven is to point out the ways in which human patterns are deficient.

Go is generous, with standards for beneficiaries of grace to adopt.  We often prefer cheap grace, so we can blithely follow familiar patterns of thinking and behaving, without nagging moral qualms.  We are also frequently stingy certainly compared to God.  Often we are like the lawyer in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10); we ask,

Who is my neighbor?

We really mean,

Who is not my neighbor?

Jesus tells us that all people are our neighbors.  We do not like that answer.  Our ways are deficient.

They can be less so in this life, by grace, though.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 2, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL SOULS/THE COMMEMORATION OF ALL FAITHFUL DEPARTED

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Faithfulness and Egos   Leave a comment

Above:  Moses Striking the Rock, by Pieter de Grebber

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Almighty God, who hast created man in thine own image:

grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil, and to make no peace with oppression;

and, that we may reverently use our freedom,

help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice among men and nations, to the glory of thy holy name;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 120

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Deuteronomy 34:1-8

Ephesians 4:10-16

Matthew 17:1-8

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The assigned readings for this day give us two mountains–in Deuteronomy 34 and Matthew 17.

The sin of Moses in Numbers 20:9-13 was the lack of trust in God.  He disobeyed orders, striking the rock–twice, actually–instead of speaking to it–to release the water contained therein.  He took glory intended for the Name of God.  Also, as one Jewish commentary on the Book of Numbers has taught me regarding this passage, wrath and leadership ought not to go together.  Moses and Aaron, having become resigned by the continued faithlessness of their people, lost faith in the continuity of the divine faithfulness to those people.  Therefore, Moses did not cross over into the Promised Land; he did see it, though.

Ephesians 4:10-16 reminds us that spiritual gifts exist for the glory of God and the building up of faith communities, not the sake of the ego and the reputation of those who receive those gifts.  We are stewards of our spiritual gifts.

The account of the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17, set en route to die in Jerusalem, reminds us of the full glory of Jesus shortly prior to his Passion.  We read of the presence of Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the prophets), figures who, although great, were not as great as Jesus.  One should note the story of the assumption of Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-18) as well as Deuteronomy 34:6, which tells us that God buried Moses.  An especially observant reader of ancient Jewish traditions knows of the alleged assumption of Moses.

Losing faith in divine promises is relatively easy, for God frequently acts in ways that defy our expectations.  The problem is human, not divine.  Faithlessness is not always malicious, but it does indicate weakness.  Yet, as Martin Luther insisted, we can trust in the faithfulness of God, even when we lose faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 1, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS

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The Sins of Racism, Nativism, and Xenophobia   Leave a comment

Above:  The Tower of Babel, by Jenõ Benedek

Image in the Public Domain

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For Race Relations Sunday, Years 1 and 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Great God and Father of us all:  destroy prejudice that turns us against our brothers.

Teach us that we are all children of your love, whether we are black or red or white or yellow.

Encourage us to live together, loving one another in peace,

so that someday a golden race of men may have the world, giving praise to Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972), 179

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Genesis 11:1-9

Colossians 3:1-11

Luke 10:25-37

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The Second Sunday in February used to be Race Relations Day (or Sunday) in much of mainline U.S. Protestantism.  The Book of Common Worship (Revised) (1932) included four prayers for “Social Justice and Brotherhood,” but Race Relations Day had come into being in time for The Book of Common Worship (1946), with its prayer of “Better Race Relations.”  Meanwhile, The Methodist Church (1939-1968) defined the Second Sunday in February as Race Relations Day in its Book of Worship for Church and Home (1945), which included two prayers for the occasion.

The occasion still exists.  In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) the Sunday preceding the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday, is Race Relations Sunday.  The United Methodist Church calls that day Human Relations Day, to call the

Church to recognize the right of all God’s children to realize their potential as human beings in relationship with one another.

The United Methodist Book of Worship (1992), 423

The assigned passages of scripture contradict dominant ways of the world.

  1. The myth in Genesis 11:1-9 condemns human hubris and reminds we mere mortals how insignificant we are compared to God, regardless of how important we consider ourselves to be.  In verse 5, for example, we read of God having to “come down” just to see the city and the Tower of Babel.
  2. The list of sins in Colossians 3:1-11 is hardly comprehensive, but it need not be.  The main idea is not to act as to harm others and oneself, but to pursue Godly, constructive purposes instead.
  3. The scandal of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is multifaceted.  After one gets past respectable, religious people refusing to help the man, one learns that a Samaritan–a half-breed and a heretic–an outsider–helped.  The parable contains layers of meaning; one of them is that we need to look past our prejudices.

Racism, nativism, and xenophobia are examples of hubris, of failure to affirm the image of God in others, of hatred, and of mutually exclusive biases.  Racism, nativism, and xenophobia are also frequently successful political weapons.

May God have mercy on us all.  Even we who decry the sins of racism, nativism, and xenophobia are not exempt from those biases; we generally rein them in within ourselves, however.  We, as members of society, are also partially responsible for the sins of society, and we share in societal punishment.

May God have mercy on us all and lead our societies to repent of these sins.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 1, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS

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Enemies and Repentance II   Leave a comment

Above:  The Parable of the Tares

Image in the Public Domain

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

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Lord, open our eyes that we may behold wondrous things out of thy Law,

and open our hearts that we may receive the gift of thy saving love;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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

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Ezekiel 33:10-16

Galatians 6:1-5

Matthew 13:24-30

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Do we really want sinners (other than ourselves, those similar to ourselves, and those we like) to repent–to turn around, to change their minds?  Or, do we want the others we despise to suffer?  According to Ezekiel 33 and Galatians 6, God wants all sinners to repent.  Not all will, unfortunately.  This is why I say that the damned condemn themselves, and that God sends nobody to Hell.

The Parable of the Weeds, I hear, is apparently better spiritual counsel than agricultural advice.  So be it, for the parable is spiritual counsel.  Lest we, in the quest to remove darnel, gather some wheat for burning instead, we need to leave that matter to God, who knows infinitely better than we do.  This parable does not negate any Biblical teachings about dealing with teachers of heresies; standards remain, after all.  We need to know our proper limits, though.  Speaking the truth is vital; so is doing so in love.

Maybe some of the darnel will repent.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 1, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS

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Nature and Human Nature   Leave a comment

Above:  Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, by Ludolf Bakhuizen

Image in the Public Domain

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

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O God, who knowest us to be in the midst of many dangers, that we cannot always stand upright;

grant to us such strength and protection that we may be supported in all difficulty,

and our feet be set against temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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

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Genesis 18:22-33

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Matthew 8:23-27

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The story of Abraham haggling with God for the lives of complete strangers in Genesis 18 impresses me.  It also causes me to wonder why he was so submissive to God’s demand in Genesis  21.  I can only guess how much psychological damage the sight of a father ready to kill his son (Isaac) caused to the son.

Above:  The Sacrifice of Isaac, by Caravaggio

Image in the Public Domain

The warning against sexual immorality in general in prostitution in particular in 1 Corinthians 6 is part of a longer discourse about sexual morality in that epistle.  Prostitution is not, despite the common term, a victimless crime.  Readings in history reveal that many prostitute have been sexual slaves, for example.  Furthermore, everyone involved pays some sort of price, monetary or otherwise.  Readings in history also reveal that many women have become prostitutes as a last resort–to avoid starvation.  Any society that forces people into that dilemma commits sin against God and them.

In the case of 1 Corinthians, temple prostitution is a matter to consider.  When one realizes that, one comes to understand that clients were uniting themselves with a false, imaginary deity, as well as with a prostitute.  This understanding adds depth to one’s grasp of the language about unions and a temple in the passage.

The title of this post is “Nature and Human Nature.”  The “human nature” aspect is plain from what precedes this paragraph.  For the rest we must turn to Matthew 8, where we read of Jesus calming an aquatic storm.  To be fearful when one’s life is in danger is human nature.  Sexuality is why the human species continues, as well as a means of commerce.  Advertising confirms the end of the previous sentence.

But what about empathy?  It is part of human nature, too.  Nevertheless, so is the lack of concern for strangers and those different from us.  The dehumanization and demonization of the “other” is an old–and current–strategy in politics and warfare.

The Incarnation had much meaning.  Part of that meaning was God empathizing with us.  This empathy was evident in the life and ministry of Jesus, who established examples for those who came to call themselves Christians to follow.

God, who has mastery over nature, commands us to live up to the best of our human nature and to rise above the depths of our human nature, for the sake of divine glory, the benefit of others, and the living into our potential in God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 29, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAMES HANNINGTON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF EASTERN EQUATORIAL AFRICA; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOMAUS HELDER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, COMPOSER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH GRIFF, ENGLISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PAUL MANZ, DEAN OF LUTHERAN CHURCH MUSIC

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