Archive for the ‘Faith and Works’ Tag

Judgment, Mercy, and God   1 comment

Kings (2009)

Above:  Captain David Shepherd and King Silas Benjamin of Gilboa, from Kings (2009)

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

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The Collect:

All-powerful God, in Jesus Christ you turned death into life and defeat into victory.

Increase our faith and trust in him,

that we may triumph over all evil in the strength

of the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 39

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 16:14-23 (Monday)

1 Kings 18:17-40 (Tuesday)

Psalm 74 (Both Days)

Revelation 20:1-6 (Monday)

Revelation 20:7-15 (Tuesday)

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Till when, O God, will the foe blaspheme,

will the enemy forever revile Your name?

Why do you hold back Your hand, Your right hand?

Draw it out of Your bosom!

–Psalm 74:10-11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.

–Revelation 20:12b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

–James 2:24, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

–Romans 5:1-2, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,

Lord, who could stand?

But there is forgiveness with you,

so that you may be revered.

–Psalm 130:3-4, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Where does judgment end and mercy begin with God?  I do not know, for (A) the mind of God is above me, and (B) the scriptural witnesses contradict each other.  How could they not do so, given the human authorship of the Bible and the range of human perspectives on the topic of divine judgment and mercy.  I am not a universalist, so I affirm that our works have some influence on the afterlife, but I also rejoice in divine forgiveness.  And, as for works, both James and St. Paul the Apostle affirmed the importance of works while defining faith differently.  Faith was inherently active for Paul yet purely intellectual for James.

What we do matters in this life and the next.  Our deeds (except for accidents) flow from our attitudes, so our thoughts matter.  If we love, we will act lovingly, for example.  Our attitudes and deeds alone are inadequate to deliver us from sin, but they are material with which God can work, like a few loaves and fishes.  What do we bring to God, therefore?  Do we bring the violence of Elijah, who ordered the slaughter of the priests of Baal?  Or do we bring the desire that those who oppose God have the opportunity to repent?  Do we bring the inclination to commit violence in the name of God?  Or do we bring the willingness to leave judgment to God?  And do we turn our back on God or do we seek God?

May we seek God, live the best way we can, by grace, and rely upon divine grace.  May we become the best people we can be in God and let God be God, which God will be anyway.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 18, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LEONIDES OF ALEXANDRIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR; ORIGEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN; DEMETRIUS OF ALEXANDRIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; AND ALEXANDER OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANSELM II OF LUCCA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAUL OF CYPRUS, EASTERN ORTHODOX MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-proper-5-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Divine Faithfulness, Judgment, and Mercy   1 comment

Christ and the Woman Taken In Adultery

Above:  Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (Guercino), 1621

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

 Loving God, by tender words and covenant promise

you have joined us to yourself forever,

and you invite us to respond to your love with faithfulness.

By your Spirit may we live with you and with one another

in justice, mercy, and joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 16:1-14 (Thursday)

Ezekiel 16:44-52 (Friday)

Ezekiel 16:53-63 (Saturday)

Psalm 103:1-13, 22 (All Days)

Romans 3:1-8 (Thursday)

2 Peter 1:1-11 (Friday)

John 7:53-8:11 (Saturday)

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The LORD is full of compassion and mercy,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

The LORD will not always accuse us

nor remain angry forever.

The LORD has not dealt with us according to our sins,

nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

–Psalm 103:8-10, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Yet we read elsewhere:

Because you did not remember the days of your youth, but infuriated Me with all those things, I will pay you back for your conduct–declares the LORD God.

–Ezekiel 16:43, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

That statement is consistent with Ezekiel’s position that God deals with each person according to his or her actions, in other words, that God does not punish anybody for the sin of an ancestor.

The related themes of judgment and mercy reside at the heart of the complex of pericopes for these days.

Ezekiel 16 weaves a metaphorical narrative regarding Jerusalem and its people.  God showered extravagant mercy upon them, but they rebelled against God instead.  They will face the consequences of their actions, but God will renew the covenant and forgive them.  That covenant requires the people to remember the mighty and faithful works of God, to remember human sins, and to respond to God faithfully.  Caring for the less fortunate constitutes part of responding to God faithfully.  And the only acceptable boast is in God’s grace.

Ezekiel 16 meshes well with Romans 3:1-8, a text one ought never to twist into Anti-Semitism.  (I condemn all -isms, phobias, and other attitudes which denigrate any of my fellow human beings.)  God’s judgment is just, St. Paul the Apostle insists, and no amount of human faithfulness can nullify the faithfulness of God.  Furthermore, the Apostle writes, the Jews might have the Law of Moses, but Gentiles can fulfill it also, for they can perceive the commandments of God too.  Thus, according to this line of reasoning, God has placed Jews and Gentiles on a level playing field, and human actions, no matter how pious they are, can function as protective talismans against the consequences of sins.  Faith, the Apostle understood, is inherently active, hence his theology of faith, works, and justification by the former, not the latter.  Thus, if good works flow from faith as a matter of course (unlike as in the Letter of James, due to a different definition of faith there, hence that text’s theology of justification by works), we have no right to boast of our good deeds because they cannot save us from judgment.  They are, as Lutheran confessions of faith state, laudable yet insufficient for salvation.  Only grace can save us.  And grace comes from God.

Moving along, we arrive at 2 Peter 1:1-11.  The text reminds us that we depend on the faithfulness of God to divine promises.  Thus our only boasts should be in God.  And grace is free for us (but not for God; ask Jesus) yet not cheap.  It requires much of those of us who receive it.  Grace mandates ethical, compassionate living.  Perceived doctrinal purity alone is insufficient, for orthodoxy and orthopraxy should be like two sides of the same coin.  (I sound like the Letter of James now.  Actually, St. Paul and the author of the Letter of James arrived at the same conclusion, just with different definitions of faith.  Their two positions differ only on a semantic level.)  I recall the narrative of an African-American slave who, with help, escaped to freedom in Canada in the 1800s.  His master, a Simon Legree-kind of person, was a Baptist deacon.  The former slave wrote that the deacon died and that he (the former slave) did not know if the deacon went to Heaven or to Hell.  The freedman did know, however, that he did not want to go to the same destination as the deacon.

John 7:53-8:11 is a floating pericope of Synoptic origin which landed in the Johannine Gospel.  The pericope fits well between 7:52 and 8:12, but one can skip over it and follow the original Johannine narrative without missing a beat.  The scribes and Pharisees in question have used the woman to set a trap for Jesus.  They do not even care that they have allowed the man to get away.  (One cannot commit adultery alone.)  Jesus, being perceptive, reverses the trap  and reminds them subtly that, if she dies for having committed adultery, the Law of Moses states that they should die also for their related offense.  Thus they are not without sin in this case and have no right to cast the first stone.  Her accusers leave, and Jesus forgives the woman.

The Law, St. Paul the Apostle reminds us, convicts us of our sins by establishing rules and categories.  The Law calls for judgment and provides guidelines (often culturally and historically specific applications of timeless and universal principles) for ethical living.  Obeying the Law can be positive, but it cannot deliver us from the consequences of our sins.  Only God can do that.  Fortunately, God seems to be more merciful than many human beings much of the time.  I recognize that both judgment and mercy exist relative to God.  I also notice that God is more prone to mercy in some biblical texts and more inclined toward judgment in others.  The biblical authors were people, so some of these texts include human projections onto the nature of God.  That is something I take as a given.  Something else I take as a given is that we mere mortals cannot grasp the entirety of the nature of God.  Thus some of what we say and write about God will be wrong, but much will be correct.  Thus theological humility is appropriate.  As for me, I hope that God is at least as merciful as Jesus in John 7:53-8:11 and that the author of Psalm 103:8-10 is closer to the truth than the author of Ezekiel 16:43.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 1, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF DANIEL MARCH, SR., U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST AND PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, POET, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAXIMILLIAN OF TREVESTE, ROMAN CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEOPHANES THE CHRONICLER, DEFENDER OF ICONS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-3-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Arguing Faithfully With God, Part II   1 comment

sacrifice-of-isaac-caravaggio

Above:  The Sacrifice of Isaac, by Caravaggio

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death

to be for us the means on life.

Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ that we may gladly suffer shame and loss

for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 27

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 21:1-7 (Monday)

Genesis 22:1-19 (Tuesday)

Psalm 105:1-11, 37-45 (Both Days)

Hebrews 1:8-12 (Monday)

Hebrews 11:1-3, 13-19 (Tuesday)

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For he remembered his holy word

and Abraham, his servant.

–Psalm 105:42, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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The New Testament defines faith three ways, for that anthology is the product of more than one writer.  Faith, in the Pauline sense, is inherently active, hence justification by grace.  Yet, in the Letter of James, faith is intellectual, hence that book’s theology of justification by works.  Those two schools of thought affirm active faith, so they are two ways of making the same point.  Then there is faith according to Hebrews 11:1:

Now faith is the assurance of things not hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Faith, according to this definition, which overlaps with the Pauline meaning, keeps one going in the absence of evidence in support of or in contradiction to a proposition.

Abraham, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, was an exemplar of that kind of faith.  As we have read in Genesis in this lectionary-based series of devotions, this was not always true.  (The author of Hebrews glossed over some content from Genesis.)  And I argue that, in Genesis 22, the patriarch failed the test of faith, for the faithful response was to argue.

Did I hear you correctly?  Do you want me kill my own son?  Have I not sacrificed Ishmael already by sending him away with Hagar?  What kind of God commands me to kill my son?

The near-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham must have caused psychological damage to the son (how could it not?), for he became a passive, minor figure and the least of the patriarchs.

My favorite aspect of Judaism is arguing faithfully with God.  In Islam one is supposed to submit to God, but Jews get to confront the deity in good conscience.  This ethic is evident in the Psalms, with frequent complaints to God.  I recall, decades ago, reading a review of a translation of the Psalms.  The new translation avoided King James-style politeness, as in

Lord, I beseech thee,

preferring

Look, Yahweh.

The review, from a Christian magazine, was favorable.  I have kvetched to God with great honesty often.  Is not honesty essential to any healthy relationship?

Pondering the art of faithful arguing led me to remember an incident from the Gospels.  The four Gospels are wonderful texts, but they lack any description of tone of voice at some crucial points in the narratives.  Tone of voice, of course, can change the meaning of dialogue.  In Matthew 15, for example, Jesus was in Gentile country–the region of Tyre and Sidon.  There a Gentile woman begged our Lord and Savior to heal her daughter.  He replied,

It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.

–15:26, The Revised English Bible (1989)

She answered,

True, sir, and yet the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table.

–15:27, REB

Jesus replied,

What faith you have!  Let it be as you wish.

–15:28a, REB

The context if that story tells me that Jesus said what he did to prompt her to reply as she did.  She passed the test.  All she had to do was argue.  Isaac would have been better off had Abraham been as faithful as that Gentile woman.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 8, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE NINTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATUS OF LUXEUIL AND ROMARIC OF LUXEUIL, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS AND ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF MARTIN RINCKART, ARCHDEACON OF EILENBURG

THE FEAST OF RICHARD BAXTER, ANGLICAN THEOLOGIAN

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-the-second-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Divine Commandments, the Image of God, and Spiritual Struggles   1 comment

Tobias Saying Goodbye to His Father

Above:  Tobias Saying Good-Bye to His Father, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Image in the Public Domain

Tobit had suffered for acting faithfully and compassionately.  His son took great risks to help him in the Book of Tobit.

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you revealed the incarnation of your Son by the brilliant shining of a star.

Shine the light of your justice always in our hearts and over all lands,

and accept our lives as the treasure we offer in your praise and for your service,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 21

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The Assigned Readings:

Proverbs 1:20-33 (January 3)

Proverbs 3:1-12 (January 4)

Psalm 110 (Both Days)

James 4:1-10 (January 3)

James 4:11-17 (January 4)

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The king at your right hand, O Lord,

shall smite down kings in the day of his wrath.

In all his majesty, he shall judge the nations,

smiting heads over all the wide earth.

–Psalm 110:5-6, Common Worship (2000)

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The assigned readings for these two days include generous amounts of divine judgment and mercy.  Obey God’s instructions, they say, and life will be better in the short, medium, and long terms than if one disregards them.  Some of the content in Proverbs leans in the direction of Prosperity Theology, unfortunately.  Nevertheless, as other passages of scripture indicate, those who suffer for the sake of righteousness do so in the company of God.

James 4, along with the rest of that epistle, focuses on human actions and their spiritual importance.  In the Letter of James faith is intellectual, hence the epistle’s theology of justification by works.  This does not contradict the Pauline theology of justification by faith, for faith, in Pauline theology, is inherently active.  These two parts of the New Testament depart from different places and arrive at the same destination.  Recognizing the image of God in others then treating them accordingly is a loving thing to do.  It is a faithful thing to do.  It is also a frequently dangerous thing to do.

This is a devotion for two days leading up to the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6), the commemoration of the Magi, who put their lives on hold for years and took many risks.  The Epiphany is also a feast about the Gospel of Jesus going out to the Gentiles, of which I am one.  Part of the significance of the Feast of the Epiphany in my life is the reality that people (especially those different from me) are more than they appear; they are bearers of the divine image.  As such, they have inherent dignity and potential.  Sometimes I recognize this reality easily in others, but I have a certain difficulty sometimes in recognizing it in those who have wronged me.  That is a spiritual issue which James 4:11-12 tells me to address.  Grace is available for that, fortunately.

Each of us has spiritual failings to address.  May you, O reader, deal with yours successfully, by grace.  May you obey God’s commandments and live compassionately, regardless of the costs.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 9, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 27:  THE TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF MARTIN CHEMNITZ, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF BARTON STONE, COFOUNDER OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH (DISCIPLES OF CHRIST)

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/devotion-for-january-3-and-4-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Faith Manages   1 comment

Rising Star Delenn

Above:  Ambassador Delenn, from Rising Star, a 1997 Episode of Babylon 5 (1994-1998)

A screen capture I took via PowerDVD and a legal DVD

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The Collect:

Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God,

and open our ears to the words of your prophets,

that, anointed by your Spirit, we may testify to your light;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 19

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The Assigned Readings:

Habakkuk 2:1-5 (Thursday)

Habakkuk 3:2-6 (Friday)

Habakkuk 3:13-19 (Saturday)

Psalm 126 (All Days)

Philippians 3:7-11 (Thursday)

Philippians 3:12-16 (Friday)

Mathew 21:28-32 (Saturday)

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Restore our fortunes, O LORD,

like the watercourses of the Negev.

Those who sowed with tears

will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,

will come in again with joy, shouldering their shears.

–Psalm 126:5-7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The readings for these three days combine to constitute a tapestry of hope, faith, violence, and judgment.

The lessons from Habakkuk complain to God about persistent injustice and report a divine reply that (A) God will settle scores one day, and (B) the righteous must remain faithful during trying times.  Some of the material is disturbing:

You tread the earth in rage,

You trample nations in fury.

You have come forth to deliver Your people,

To deliver Your anointed.

You will smash the roof of the villain’s house,

Raze it from foundation to top.

You will crack [his] skull with Your bludgeon;

Blown away will be his warriors,

Whose delight is to crush me suddenly,

To devour a poor man in an ambush.

–Habakkuk 3:12-14, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Happier is the end of the book:

Though the fig tree does not bud

And no yield is on the vine,

Though the olive crop has failed

And the fields produce no grain,

Though sheep have vanished from the fold

And no cattle are n the pen,

Yet will I rejoice in the LORD,

Exult in the God who delivers me.

My Lord GOD is my strength:

He makes my feet like the deer’s

And lets me stride upon the heights.

–Habakkuk 3:17-19, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

As I have written many times, I understand the reality that some oppressors will not cease oppressing until someone forces them to do so.  Thus a rescue mission becomes necessary.  This is good news for the oppressed and a catastrophe for the oppressors.  Yet the imagery of God cracking open skulls bothers me.

The note of judgment continues in Matthew 21:28-32, set in the context of the final days leading up to our Lord and Savior’s crucifixion.

Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

–Matthew 21:31b-32, New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The bad news for chief priests and elders, beneficiaries of the Temple system, comes amid a series of controversies in the Gospel of Matthew.  The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Matthew 21:33-45) follows on the heels of those harsh words, for example.

St. Paul the Apostle picks up the theme of remaining faithful during difficult times in Philippians.  His reference to the righteous living by faith echoes a line from Habakkuk–a nice touch, which the lectionary amplifies.  Faith, in the Pauline sense of that word, is inherently active, compelling one to do something.  In contrast, the definition of faith in the Letter of James is intellectual, hence that author’s insistence on pairing works with faith.  So no disagreement between Sts. Paul and James regarding faith and works exists.  Maintaining that active faith under great pressure is both difficult and crucial, as St. Paul knew well.

When times and circumstances challenge our trust in God, may we say with St. Paul:

But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison to the superior value of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord.   I have lost everything for him, but whatever I have lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ and be found with him.

–Philippians 3:8-9a, Common English Bible (2008)

Faith (in the Pauline sense) functions in the absence of proof for or against a given proposition.  As Ambassador Delenn, a character from Babylon 5 (1994-1998), one of my favorite science fiction series, said,

Faith manages.

(Indeed, that was one of the major themes of the series.)  Faith keeps one on the proper path when, as Habakkuk wrote, the crops have failed and the livestock have vanished.  If we give up, we have decided to act in a way which will create a more negative future.  Yet if we persist, we act based on hope.  Such hope as overcome incredible odds many times, from ancient to contemporary times.  Many people have suffered and died so that members of subsequent generations can lead better lives.

Advent is a season of hope and violence.  Some of the violence is contemporary.  Other violence comes from the texts we read.  For example, St. Mary of Nazareth, the mother of our Lord and Savior, would have died by stoning if not for the graciousness of St. Joseph.  Faith manages during times of doubt, despair, and suspicion.  It persists during protracted periods of whisper campaigns and rumor-mongering, such as Jesus and his mother had to endure.

May we, by grace, have healthy faith from God in God, in whom both judgment and mercy exist.  And may we leave the judgment to God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 26, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 25:  THE TWENTIETH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALFRED THE GREAT, KING OF THE WEST SAXONS

THE FEAST OF SAINT CEDD, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF LONDON

THE FEAST OF DMITRY BORTNIANSKY, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF PHILLIP NICOLAI, JOHANN HEERMANN, AND PAUL GERHARDT, HYMN WRITERS

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-the-third-sunday-of-advent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Righteousness, Justification, Justice, and Awe   1 comment

Zedekiah

Above:  King Zedekiah

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

You are great, O God, and greatly to be praised.

You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

Grant that we may believe in you, call upon you, know you, and serve you,

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 41

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 27:1-11, 16-22 (Monday)

Jeremiah 28:10-17 (Tuesday)

Psalm 131 (Both Days)

Romans 1:18-25 (Monday)

Romans 3:1-8 (Tuesday)

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O LORD, I am not proud;

I have no haughty looks.

I do not occupy myself with great matters,

or with things that are too hard for me.

But I still my soul and make it quiet,

like a child upon its mother’s breast;

my soul is quieted within me.

O Israel, wait upon the LORD,

from this time forth for evermore.

–Psalm 131, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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“Righteousness” and “justification” are English translations of the same Greek word.  “Justification” refers to how we get right with God.  St. Paul the Apostle, understanding faith as something which comes with works as a component of it (as opposed to the author of the Letter of James, who comprehended faith as intellectual and therefore requiring the addition of works for justification), argued that faith alone was sufficient for justification.  The two men agreed in principle, but not their definition of faith.  They arrived at the same conclusion by different routes.  That conclusion was that actions must accompany thoughts if the the thoughts are to be of any good.

A note on page 2011 of The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003) makes an excellent point:

In the OT, righteousness and justice repeatedly characterize God’s nature and activity, particularly in relationship  to the covenant with Israel.

Thus we arrive at the lections from Jeremiah, excerpts from a section of that book.  The prophet argued that God had made Judah a vassal state of the Babylonians, so rebellion against them would constitute a sin.  Hananiah was a false prophet who advocated for the opposite point of view.  The argument that a fight for national liberation is wrong might seem odd to many people, but it made sense to Jeremiah in a particular context.

Discerning the will of God in a given context can prove to be challenging at best.  Often the greatest obstacle to overcome is our penchant for confirmation bias–to reinforce what we think already.  Are we listening to God’s message or conducting an internal monologue?  But, when we succeed in discerning the divine will, we might realize that we do not understand or agree with it.  Honesty is the best policy with God; may we acknowledge truthfully where we stand spiritually and proceed from that point.  If divine justice confuses or frustrates us, may we tell God that.  If we argue, may we do so faithfully, and so claim part of our spiritual inheritance from the Jews, our elder siblings in faith.  Jeremiah, for example, argued with God often.

And may we trust in the faithfulness of God, the mysteries of whom we can never hope to explore completely.  Mystery can be wonderful, inspiring people with a sense of awe, the meaning of “the fear of God.”  Such awe provides us with proper context relative to God.  Such awe shows us how small we are relative to ultimate reality, God.  And such awe reinforces the wondrous nature of grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY OF PADUA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-proper-9-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Freedom, Law, and Obedience to God   2 comments

romanempire_117-svg

Above:  The Roman Empire in 117 C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

Note the location of the Province of Galatia in Asia Minor.

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The Collect:

O God, you direct our lives by your grace,

and your words of justice and mercy reshape the world.

Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 40

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 25:1-7 (Thursday)

Jeremiah 25:8-14 (Friday)

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18 (Both Days)

Galatians 5:2-6 (Thursday)

Galatians 5:7-12 (Friday)

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I will declare that your love is established for ever;

you have set your faithfulness as firm as the heavens.

–Psalm 89:2, Common Worship (2000)

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Law, for St. Paul the Apostle, stood in stark opposition to grace. Law spoke of what humans did, but grace indicated what God did. Thus, via Christ and in grace a Christian had freedom, which nobody ought to surrender. The aspect of the Law in question in Galatians 5:2-12 was circumcision, a matter of identity in Judaism to this day. Christianity, not yet separate from Judaism, was open to Gentile converts. Did they have to become Jewish to become Christians? Paul chose the inclusive position: no, which he hung on the hook of the cross of Christ.

I am not entirely unsympathetic with those who disagreed with the Apostle. They recalled passages, such as Jeremiah 25:1-14, in which not keeping the Law led to negative consequences. Circumcision was a physical mark on a Jewish male and an outward sign of an inward and communal covenant with God. This was foundational. And I know that each of us probably clings to some practice we consider essential to our tradition. Maybe we are correct to do so.

But, for the Apostle, trust in and love of Christ, expressed in a life of love, is where one’s emphasis belongs. Faith, in Pauline theology, is inherently active. And so, as Archibald M. Hunter wrote in The Layman’s Bible Commentary, Volume 22 (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1959), page 37:

The faith that James denounces in his letter is one that does not issue in deeds of love. The faith that Paul praises is one that cannot help expressing itself in love.

Certainly we who claim to follow God can do so without placing impediments in the way of others whom God has called to God’s self. May we do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 23, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DESIDERIUS/DIDIER OF VIENNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT GUIBERT OF GORZE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN BAPTIST ROSSI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF NICOLAUS COPERNICUS, SCIENTIST

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-proper-8-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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