Archive for the ‘Gnosticism’ Tag

A Question of Balance   Leave a comment

Above:  Balance Scale

Photographer = Andreas Praefcke

Image in the Public Domain

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[Jesus] called the people to him and said, “Listen, and understand.  What goes into the mouth does not make anyone unclean; it is what comes out of the mouth that makes someone unclean.”

–Matthew 15:10-11, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

I remember a single-cell cartoon depicting a man standing before St. Simon Peter at the Pearly Gates.  The caption reads,

No, that is not a sin either.  You must have worried yourself to death.

Recently I have renewed my interest in Scandinavian-American Lutheran history.  I have therefore been reading in that field.  These volumes have covered topics including Pietism, complete with its condemnation of indulging appetites and engaging in “worldly amusements,” such as dancing, drinking tea, playing cards, playing chess, attending plays, attending fairs and circuses, and reading works of fiction.  I have remembered an old joke:

Q:  Why don’t fundamentalists have sex standing up?

A:  It might lead to dancing.

Pietism and Puritanism are two unfortunate -isms that overlap with regard to denunciations of “worldly amusements.”  Pietism, which originated within Lutheranism then spread beyond it, dates to the 1600s, as a reaction against excessively abstract theology in preaching.  Pietism rejects the definition of the church as the assembly of hose called by both word and sacraments and redefines the church as the gathering of the spiritually reborn.  Pietism also de-emphasizes doctrine and stresses deeds–many of them laudible acts of charity and general decency and honest piety.  Unfortunately, Pietism also bends toward legalism and de-emphasizes the sacraments and rituals (referring scornfully to “externals”), tends toward serial contrarianism with regard to “the world,” and is Donatistic.  A Pietist contrasts deeds and doctrines.  I rebut that deeds reveal doctrines.  As we think, so we are.  That which we are inside cannot help but be evident outside.

I affirm the following statements:

  1. What we do matters.
  2. What we do not do matters.
  3. What we believe (give intellectual assent to) matters.
  4. None of the above can save any of us from the consequences of our sins.
  5. Faithful response to God is vital.
  6. Legalism is spiritually detrimental.
  7. Salvation is a gift.  It is free, not cheap.

The allegation of works-based righteousness is a cudgel many Protestants use against Roman Catholicism.  This reality indicates a misapprehension of Roman Catholic theology.  Yes, many Roman Catholics have a sense of works-based righteousness, but so do many Protestants.  I, who grew up a United Methodist in the South Georgia Conference, recall some children’s sermons delivered by laypeople whose theology included works-based righteousness.  I know well that the doctrinal standards of that denomination reject works-based righteousness.  For many Protestants of various theological categories affirming orthodoxy becomes a means of salvation.  Salvation from damnation therefore becomes a matter of knowledge.  This is an error–a sort of Gnosticism, to be precise.  Furthermore, an obsession with personal peccadilloes becomes an excuse for giving short shrift to or ignoring collective responsibility for societal and social ills.  So yes, one might cheat one’s employees and oppose policies that would penalize one for doing so and prevent one from doing so, but one rarely uses profanity and never cheats on one’s spouse.  The Bible says more about the exploitation of people than about sexual activities, however, so such a one needs to rethink one’s priorities.  Anyhow, even the most moral life, measured by kindness, cannot save one from damnation.

In both Judaism and Christianity the law of love is paramount.  So, O reader, leave the world better than you found it.  God will save it, but your faithful response is to act positively.  Also, go ahead and enjoy your life.  Enjoy a good dance, if you wish.  Watch movies, from harmless popcorn flicks to profound art films.  (Italian Neorealism has enriched my life recently.)  Why not relish a well-written novel or short story?  Lose yourself in a symphony or other work of great music.

Finally, brothers, let your minds be filled with everything that is true, everything that is honourable, everything that is upright and pure, everything that we love and admire–and whatever is good and praiseworthy.

–Philippians 4:8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

The “worldly” in “worldly amusements” is not necessarily negative.  Yes, one should avoid much that one can find to amuse oneself, but many of the options are laudable.  Playing chess is beneficial for one’s mind.  Antioxidents in tea are good for us.  Idle hands are not necessarily the Devil’s workshop, for we need to rest and play as well as work.  God has given us life;  may we enjoy it and thank God frequently.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 9, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF KARL BARTH, SWISS REFORMED MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR; FATHER OF MARKUS BARTH, SWISS LUTHERAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF GEORG FRIEDRICH HELLSTROM, DUTCH-GERMAN MORAVIAN MUSICIAN, COMPOWER, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER FOURIER, “THE GOOD PRIEST OF MATTAINCOURT;” AND SAINT ALIX LE CLERC, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF NOTRE DAME OF CANONESSES REGULAR OF SAINT AUGUSTINE

THE FEAST OF SAINT WALTER CISZEK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIEST AND POLITICAL PRISONER

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Orthodoxy, Heresy, and Compassion   1 comment

Job and His Alleged Friends

Above:   Job and His Alleged Friends

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, our eternal redeemer, by the presence of your Spirit you renew and direct our hearts.

Keep always in our mind the end of all things and the day of judgment.

Inspire us for a holy life here, and bring us to the joy of the resurrection,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Job 20:1-11 (Monday)

Job 21:1, 17-34 (Tuesday)

Psalm 123 (Both Days)

2 Peter 1:16-21 (Monday)

2 John 1-13 (Tuesday)

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Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy,

for we have had more than enough of contempt.

–Psalm 123:4, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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With friends such as Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, who needs enemies?  In Job 19:22 the main character laments:

Why do you hound me down like God,

will you never have enough of my flesh?

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

in response to Bildad.  Then Zophar echoes Bildad in arguing that Job must have sinned and therefore deserve his suffering.  Job replies in part:

So what sense is there in your empty consolation?

What nonsense are your answers!

–Job 21:34, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Refraining from blaming victims is a good start, is it not?  Compassion is a virtue, and tough love is different from abuse.

Turning to the readings from the New Testament, we find defenses of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of Christian orthodoxy, which was in the early phase of development in the first and second centuries of the Common Era.  The Gospel, consistent with the Hebrew Prophets, comes with eyewitnesses (most of whom had died by the late first century C.E.), we read.  The text of 2 John adds a criticism of Gnostics or proto-Gnostics, who denied the Incarnation.  Indeed, many Gnostic texts have survived and are available in English-language translations.  They are baffling and non-canonical.  Their non-canonical status is appropriate, given that Gnosticism and Christianity are mutually incompatible.

Interestingly, the author of 2 John never accuses these deniers of the Incarnation of being cruel or otherwise mean.  No, they are simply wrong and dangerous, he argues.  One can be compassionate and theologically mistaken just as surely as one can be theologically correct and lacking in compassion.  One can also, of course, lack both compassion and theological correctness.  The optimum state is to be theologically correct and compassionate, is it not?

That leads to another, practical matter.  One might have compassion yet channel it in a way or ways that prove harmful at worst or not helpful at best.  One might read the Book of Job in such a way as to interpret the motivations of the literary characters of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar to be positive–to stage a spiritual intervention.  Yet the theological position of that book (in its final, composite form) is that their orthodoxy was actually heresy.  If one proceeds from a false assumption, one should not be surprised when arriving at an erroneous conclusion.

Each of us is correct in much and erroneous in much else.  May we, by grace, grow in orthodoxy (as God defines it) and effective compassion.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LIPHARDUS OF ORLEANS AND URBICIUS OF MEUNG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF UGANDA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MORAND OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND MISSIONARY

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-proper-27-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Obeying or Resisting the Will of God   1 comment

Abimelech

Above:  Abimelech

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Creator God, you prepare a new way in the wilderness,

and your grace waters our desert.

Open our hearts to be transformed by the new thing you are doing,

that our lives may proclaim the extravagance of your love

given to all through 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 29

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The Assigned Readings:

Judges 9:7-15

Psalm 20

1 John 2:18-28

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Now I know that the LORD has given deliverance to his king;

from his heavenly sanctuary he responds to him,

sending his mighty power which always saves.

Some draw attention to their chariots, some to their horses,

 but for our part we draw attention to the LORD, our God.

They crumble and fall,

but we will rise and continue on our way.

The LORD had delivered the king;

he answers us when we call.

–Psalm 20:7-10, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)

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Psalm 20 contains a monarchical perspective, but Judges 9 does not.  In Judges 9 we read of Abimelech, son of Gideon (Jerubbabel).  We learn of Abimelech’s three-year-long local reign at Shechem, of his violent rise to power, and of his violent demise.  The text makes plain that Abimelech’s reign was contrary to the will of God and that of God was supposed to be the only king of the Israelites.  The thematic link of Samuel’s warning in 1 Samuel 8 is obvious.

1 John we find a letter to a congregation recovering from a traumatic schism.  The schismatics were probably Gnostics, based on internal evidence from the document.  The author, who was possibly St. John the Evangelist, advised his audience to remain strong in Christian faith and to continue to reject teachings of antichrists (note the plural form of the word, O reader), who reject Christ.  Gnostics seem like probable antichrists in this context, given their theological position that Jesus was not really incarnate and therefore could not have died on the cross.  That which is material, they said, is evil.  They taught, therefore, that Jesus was a phantom.  So much for Christianity!  There is no Christianity without the Incarnation and all that followed it in the earthly life of Jesus.

The thematic glue for this day’s assigned readings is the will of God–specifically, acting in accordance with it or contrary to it.  Stating that one should act according to the will of God is easy, but discerning that will can be difficult.  Many people who have claimed to know the divine will have acted such that their deeds have belied their protestations of righteousness.  I make no pretense of knowing the mind of God better than anyone else, but I affirm some helpful principles.  These include:

  1. Love you neighbor as you love yourself.
  2. Respect the image of God in all other people actively.
  3. Act toward others as you want them to behave toward you.
  4. Follow Jesus.
  5. Refrain from attempting to domesticate him and/or his message.
  6. If you must err, do so on the side of compassion, not fear or hatred.

Stating those principles is easier than practicing them, I realize, but one need not rely on one’s own power to live righteously in one’s society; grace abounds.  May God deliver each of us from all that stands between us and righteousness.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 4, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS COTTERILL, ENGLISH PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN CALABRIA, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE POOR SERVANTS AND THE POOR WOMEN SERVANTS OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH MOHR, AUSTRIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/devotion-for-tuesday-after-the-fifth-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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More Questions Than Answers   1 comment

Question Mark

Above:  A Question Mark

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and merciful God,

we implore you to hear the prayers of your people.

Be our strong defense against all harm and danger,

that we may live and grow in faith and hope,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 41

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The Assigned Readings:

Lamentations 1:16-22 (Thursday)

Lamentations 2:1-12 (Friday)

Lamentations 2:18-22 (Saturday)

Psalm 30 (All Days)

2 Corinthians 7:2-16 (Thursday)

2 Corinthians 8:1-7 (Friday)

Luke 4:31-37 (Saturday)

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Weeping may spend the night,

but joy comes in the morning.

While I felt secure I said,

“I shall never be disturbed.

You, LORD, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”

Then You hid your face,

and I was filled with fear.

–Psalm 30:6-8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition (1996) defines theodicy as

A vindication of God’s goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil.

Defenses of divine goodness and justice also occur in the context of misfortune attributed to God’s judgment of sinful people.  It is present in the readings from Lamentations and in Psalm 30, for example.  The anonymous authors of Lamentations wept over sins, wrote bitterly that the foe had triumphed, and thought that God had acted as a foe.  Yet the book ends:

Take us back, O LORD, to Yourself,

And let us come back;

Renew our days as of old!

–Lamentations 5:22b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The titular character in the Book of Job says of God:

He may well slay me; I may have no hope;

Yet I will argue my case before Him.

In this too is my salvation:

That no impious man can come into His presence.

–Job 13:15-16, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Modern translations of the Bible, with some exceptions, depart from the King James rendering, which is:

Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him….,

which comes from a marginal note in the Masoretic Text.  Saying

I may have no hope

differs from uttering

yet I will trust in him,

at least superficially.  The first translation fits Job 13:15 better than does the second rendering, but pressing the lawsuit against God indicates some hope of victory.

But I know that my Vindicator lives;

In the end He will testify on earth–

This, after my skin will have been peeled off.

But I would behold God while still in my flesh.

I myself, not another, would behold Him;

Would see with my own eyes:

My heart pines within me.

–Job 19:25-27, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Job, in that passage, speaks of a divine hearing within his lifetime.  During that proceeding a defender (presumably not a relative, since his sons had died and his surviving kinsmen had abandoned him) will speak on his behalf.  The translation of this passage from The Jerusalem Bible gets more to the point, for it has an Avenger, not a Vindicator.  These rendering differ from the familiar King James text, which George Frederick Handel set to music in The Messiah (1742) as a reference to Jesus:

For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth….

We who claim to follow God ought to proceed carefully when defending God.  First, God does not require the defenses which mere mortals provide.  Second, many human defenses of God depict God erroneously, as either a warm fuzzy on one hand or a cosmic bully or thug on the other hand.  Often our attempts to justify God to ourselves and others obstruct a healthy relationship with God and dissuade others from following God.  We need to question inadequate God concepts.

The God of Luke 4:31-37, who, through Jesus, delivers people from illnesses allegedly caused by demonic possession is the same God who has blessings and woes just two chapters later (Luke 6:20-26).  This is the same God who encourages repentance–the act of turning around or changing one’s mind.  Apologizing for one’s sins is a fine thing to do, but repentance must follow it if one is to follow God.

I do not pretend to have worked out all or even most of the answers to difficult and uncomfortable questions regarding God and human-divine relationships.  No, I acknowledge that my doubts and unanswered questions in these realms outnumber my answers.  Furthermore, some of my answers are certainly wrong.  I am, however, comfortable with this reality.  I can repent of my errors, by grace, and progress spiritually.  Besides, knowledge is not the path to salvation, as in Gnosticism.  No, grace is the path to salvation.  God has the answers.  That is fine with me.  I remain inquisitive, however, for the journey itself has much merit.

I pray that my conduct of my spiritual journey will encourage others in their pilgrimages with God and prompt others to begin, not have a negative affect on anyone.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 27, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHARLES VILLIERS SANFORD, COMPOSER, ORGANIST, AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF CHARLES HENRY BRENT, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WESTERN NEW YORK

THE FEAST OF JOHN MARRIOTT, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT RUPERT OF SALZBURG, APOSTLE OF BAVARIA AND AUSTRIA

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-8-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Apostasy and Idolatry   1 comment

Kingdoms of Judah and Israel

Above:  Map of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Beloved God, from you come all things that are good.

Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right,

and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 2:14-22 (Thursday)

Jeremiah 2:23-37 (Friday)

Jeremiah 6:1-10 (Saturday)

Psalm 80:7-15 (All Days)

Colossians 2:16-23 (Thursday)

Philippians 2:14-18; 3:1-4a (Friday)

John 7:40-52 (Saturday)

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Restore us, O God of hosts;

show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

–Psalm 80:7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The reading for these three days overlap nicely, focusing on the themes of idolatry and apostasy.  To commit apostasy is to fall away from grace.  (Thus grace is not irresistible.  Strict Calvinism is therefore mistaken about that fifth of the TULIP formula.  I am also dubious of the Perseverance of the Saints, which relates to Irresistible Grace.)  An idol is anything which takes the place of God in one’s life.  Thus an idol might be a false deity, an activity, or even a sacred text.  Function in one’s life determines that thing’s status relative to idolatry.  Among the most popular idols is the Bible, which is supposed to function instead as an icon–through which people see God.  But, if one treats it as an idol, that is what it is for that person.

The lessons from Jeremiah condemn idolatry which has led to national apostasy, evident in ill-advised alliances with foreign, predatory empires.

What then do you gain by going to Egypt,

to drink the waters of the Nile?

or what do you gain by going to Assyria,

to drink the waters of the Euphrates?

Your wickedness will punish you,

and your apostasies will convict you.

Know and see that it is evil and bitter

for you to forsake the LORD your God;

the fear of me is not in you,

says the LORD GOD of hosts.

–Jeremiah 2:18-19, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

From the gloom of Jeremiah 2 and 6 we turn to the Pauline tradition, which emphasizes Christ crucified and resurrected.  St. Paul the Apostle rejects, among other things, Gnostic asceticism, a form of Jewish ritualism, and the practice of worshiping angels as methods as obtaining the spiritual upper hand.  Christ is sufficient, the ever-Jewish Paul tells us through the ages.

I understand the Apostle’s objection to Gnosticism, with its reliance on secret knowledge and belief that matter is evil.  If salvation comes from having secret knowledge, as Gnostics insisted, the death and resurrection of Jesus were pointless.  In fact, in Gnostic thought, he did not die because he was not even corporeal, for, in Gnosticism, he could not have had a body, a body being material and therefore evil.  Thus Gnosticism was not Christian.  The exclusion of Gnostic texts from the Bible was not, as some “documentaries” on the History Channel claim, a conspiracy of Church leaders to suppress truth and crush dissent.  No, it was a proper course of action.

As for rituals (especially Jewish ones), I approach the text from Colossians differently than do the authors of some of the commentaries I consulted.  A high proportion of these writers were Presbyterians with little use for ritual.  Their paragraphs screamed between the lines “This is why I am not a Papist!”  I, as an Episcopalian, know the value of ritual and of approaching it properly.  It should be an icon, not an idol, although it functions as the latter for many people.  But so does the Bible, and I do not heap scorn on that sacred anthology either.

Apostasy, a theme from the Jeremiah readings, recurs in John 7.  Temple officials accuse some Temple policemen of it for refusing to arrest Jesus, who had impressed them.  These officials also accuse Nicodemus of the same offense.  I realize that much of the Gospel of John reflects late first-century C.E. Jewish Christian invective, for Jewish Christians had found themselves marginalized within Judaism.  Nevertheless, the stories in John 7:40-52 have the ring of truth, for fearful people in positions of power have attempted to retain it in many places and at numerous times.

Idols come in many varieties, shapes, sizes, and ages.  As I have written in this post, function in one’s life determines status relative to idolatry in that life.  Among the more common idols is attachment to the status quo ante, especially if one benefits from it.  Thus we become upset when God does something we do not expect.  This might threaten just our sense of order (hardly a minor issue), but also our identity (also a major consideration) and socio-economic-political or socio-economic standing (of which we tend to be quite protective).  But when was religion supposed to function as a defense against God?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 25, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL FARADAY, SCIENTIST

THE FEAST OF BAYARD RUSTIN, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-22-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Judges and Galatians, Part III: Gentiles and Fidelity   1 comment

samson-statue

Above:  Statue of Samson

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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 everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Judges 14:1-20 (July 14)

Judges 15:1-16:3 (July 15)

Judges 16:4-30 (July 16)

Psalm 103 (Morning–July 14)

Psalm 5 (Morning–July 15)

Psalm 42 (Morning–July 16)

Psalms 117 and 139 (Evening–July 14)

Psalms 84 and 29 (Evening–July 15)

Psalms 102 and 133 (Evening–July 16)

Galatians 3:1-22 (July 14)

Galatians 3:23-4:11 (July 15)

Galatians 4:12-31 (July 16)

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Some Related Posts:

Galatians 3-4:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/first-sunday-after-christmas-years-a-b-and-c/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/devotion-for-january-19-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/week-of-proper-22-thursday-friday-and-saturday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/proper-7-year-c/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/week-of-proper-23-monday-year-2/

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Samson boasted of his own strength, gave God no credit much of the time, and had bad taste in women.  His first love pleased him.  She was, according to the Alexandrian Greek text of Judges 14:1,

…the right one in his eyes.

She was also a Gentile.

The full view of Gentiles in the Hebrew Scriptures is not

Jews good, Gentiles bad.

Rahab the prostitute recognized Yahweh as God, so the Israelite forces spared her and her family.  Later in the Bible, Ruth, a Moabite, became an ancestor of King David.  Both women were, according to the beginning of Matthew 1, ancestors of Jesus.  The reality that most Gentiles would continue in their traditions led to the command for Jews to choose life partners faithful to God.

The Law of Moses defined that fidelity for a long time.  The Law, in Pauline theology, was like a house slave responsible for raising children.  No matter how capable that disciplinarian was, the children outgrew their need for him or her.  And Jesus, in whom there is no longer a distinction between Jew or Greek, has fulfilled the Law.

I do not pretend to understand all the implications of the previous statement, but that is fine.  Reliance on knowledge for salvation is Gnosticism, a grave heresy.  Rather, I accept readily the limits of my understanding and leave the details to God, who does grasp them.

I do know at least one thing, however:  seeking companionship of various forms with people who are faithful to God remains crucial.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 7, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICTRICIUS OF ROUEN, ROMAN CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR AND ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIXTUS II, BISHOP OF ROME, AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF JOHN MASON NEALE, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERHOOD OF SAINT MARGARET

THE FEAST OF MARION HATCHETT, LITURGIST AND EPISCOPAL PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/08/07/devotion-for-july-14-15-and-16-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Song of Songs and Gospel of John, Part I: That Which Offends (More)   1 comment

pool-of-bethesda-april-12-1839

Above:  Pool of Bethesda, Jerusalem, June 12, 1839, by David Roberts

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002717460/)

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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 everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Song of Songs 1:1-2:7 (May 18)

Song of Songs 2:8-3:11 (May 19)

Song of Songs 4:1-5:1 (May 20)

Psalm 103 (Morning–May 18)

Psalm 5 (Morning–May 19 and 20)

Psalms 117 and 139 (Evening–May 18)

Psalms 84 and 29 (Evening–May 19 and 20)

John 5:1-18 (May 18)

John 5:19-29 (May 19)

John 5:30-47 (May 20)

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Some Related Posts:

John 5:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/third-week-of-advent-friday/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/devotion-for-february-13-and-14-in-epiphanyordinary-time-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/devotion-for-february-15-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/devotion-for-february-16-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/twenty-fourth-day-of-lent/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/twenty-fifth-day-of-lent/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/twenty-sixth-day-of-lent/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/thirty-sixth-day-of-easter-sixth-sunday-of-easter-year-c/

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In John 5, the unity of which I have maintained, Jesus committed a good deed.  He did this on the Sabbath, a fact which made some especially strict interpreters of the Law uncomfortable.  And he spoke of himself in ways which sounded blasphemous to them.  The penalty for blasphemy, according to the Law of Moses, was death.

What makes us uncomfortable?  And which input makes us more uncomfortable than other input?  What do these facts say about us?  Consider Psalm 139:18-21 (1979 Book of Common Prayer), for example:

Oh, that you would slay the wicked, O God!

You that thirst for blood, depart from me.

They speak despitefully against you;

your enemies take your Name in vain.

Do I not hate those, O LORD, who hate you?

And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?

I hate them with a perfect hatred;

they have become my own enemies.

Then there is Psalm 137:9 (1979 Prayer Book):

Happy shall be he who takes your little ones,

and dashes them against the rock.

Those passages–and many others in the Bible–should make one uncomfortable.  Accounts of massacres depicted as God’s will cause me to squirm in my seat.

But do such passages make one more uncomfortable than love poetry?  Or does love poetry make one more uncomfortable?  The Song of Songs seems to be exactly what it appears to be:  love poetry.  There is nothing exploitative about it, and the two lovers are consenting adults.  Allegorical interpretations seem like stretches to me.  They look like attempts to make the Song of Songs seem like something it is not.

I think that often, in certain cultures and subcultures, people are more prudish about love and sexuality than squeamish about violence.  Our bodies, with their orifices, fluids, and urges, both repel and attract us.  Yet here we are, in our physical form.  And, if we focus so much on the spirit as to think negatively of the body, how far removed are we from Gnosticism?

So, which option–the means of leaving this life or the method of coming into it–offends us or offends us more?  And what does one’s answer to that question say about one?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 3, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERARD, ANGLICAN DEACONESS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ELIZABETH OF PORTUGAL, QUEEN

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/devotion-for-may-18-19-and-20-in-ordinary-time-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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The Narrow Door   1 comment

celtic-cross-over-church-door

Above:  Celtic Cross Over a Church Door

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Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 (New Revised Standard Version):

The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision,

Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.

But Abram said,

O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?

And Abram said,

You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.

But the word of the LORD came to him,

This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.

He brought him outside and said,

Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.

Then he said to him,

So shall your descendants be.

And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Then he said to him,

I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.

But he said,

O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?

He said to him,

Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.

He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying,

To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.

Psalm 27 (Revised English Bible):

The LORD is my light and my salvation;

whom should I fear?

The LORD is the stronghold of my life;

of whom then should I go in dread?

When evildoers close in on me to devour me,

is my adversaries, my enemies,

who stumble and fall.

Should an army encamp against me,

my heart would have no fear;

if armed men should fall upon me,

even though I would be undismayed.

One thing I ask of the LORD,

it is the one thing I seek:

that I may dwell in the house of the LORD

all the days of my life,

to gaze on the beauty of the LORD

and to seek him in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter

in the day of misfortune;

he will conceal me under cover of his tent,

set me high on a rock.

Now my head will be raised high

above my enemy all about me;

so I shall acclaim him in his tent with a sacrifice

and sing a psalm of praise to the LORD.

Hear, LORD, when I cry aloud;

show my favour and answer me.

Come,

my heart has said,

seek his presence.

I seek your presence, LORD;

do not hide your face from me,

nor in your anger turn away from your servant,

whose help you have been;

God my saviour, do not reject me or forsake me.

Though my father and my mother forsake me,

the LORD will take me into his care.

Teach me your way, LORD;

do not give me up to the greed of my enemies;

lead me by a level path

to escape the foes who beset me:

liars breathing malice come forward

to give evidence against me.

Well I know that I shall see the goodness of the LORD

in the land of the living.

Wait for the LORD; be strong and brave,

and put your hope in the LORD.

Philippians 3:17-4:1 (Revised English Bible):

Join together, my friends, in following my example.  You have us for a model; imitate those whose way of life conforms to it.  As I have often told you, and now tell you with tears, there are many whose way of life makes them enemies of the cross of Christ.  They are heading for destruction, they make appetite their god, they take pride in what should bring shame; their minds are set on earthly things.  We, by contrast, are citizens of heaven, and from heaven we expect our deliverer to come, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He will transfigure our humble bodies, and give them a form like that of his own glorious body, by that power which enables him to make all things subject to himself.  This, my dear friends, whom I live and long for, my joy and crown, this is what it means to stand firm in the Lord.

Luke 13:22-35 (Revised English Bible):

He [Jesus] continued his journey through towns and villages, teaching as he made his way towards Jerusalem.  Someone asked him,

Sir, are only a few saved?

His answer was:

Make every effort to enter through the narrow door; for I tell you that many will try to enter but will not succeed.

When once the master of the house has got up and locked the door, you may stand outside and knock and say, “Sir let us in!” but he will answer, “I do not know where you come from.”  Then you will protest, “We used to eat and drink with you, and you taught in our streets.”  But he will repeat, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from.  Out of my sight, all of you, you and your wicked ways!”  There will be wailing and grinding of teeth there, when you see prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves are driven away.  From east and west, from north and south, people will come and take their places at the banquet in the kingdom of God.  Yes, and some are now last who will be first, and some who are first will be last.

At that time a number of  Pharisees came and warned him [Jesus],

Leave this place and be on your way; Herod wants to kill you.

He replied,

Go and tell that fox, “Listen:  today and tomorrow I shall be driving out demons and working cures; However, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the next day, because it is unthinkable for a prophet to meet his death anywhere but in Jerusalem.”

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, city that murders the prophets and stones the messengers sent to her!  How often have I longed to gather your children, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings; but you would not let me.  Look!  There is your temple, forsaken by God.  I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord!”

The Collect:

O God, whose glory it 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, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Second Sunday in Lent, Year A:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/second-sunday-in-lent-year-a/

Second Sunday in Lent, Year B:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2011/07/25/second-sunday-in-lent-year-b/

Genesis 15:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/devotion-for-the-tenth-day-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/week-of-proper-7-wednesday-year-1/

Philippians 3-4:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/week-of-proper-26-thursday-year-2-and-week-of-proper-26-friday-year-2/

Luke 13:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/week-of-proper-25-wednesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/week-of-proper-25-thursday-year-1/

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-second-sunday-in-lent/

Prayer of Confession:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/prayer-of-confession-for-the-second-sunday-in-lent/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-the-second-sunday-in-lent/

Prayer:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/prayer-for-the-second-sunday-of-lent/

Hope of the World:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/hope-of-the-world/

A Prayer for Compassion:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/a-prayer-for-compassion/

A Prayer to Embrace Love, Empathy, and Compassion, and to Eschew Hatred, Invective, and Willful Ignorance:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/a-prayer-to-embrace-love-empathy-and-compassion-and-to-eschew-hatred-invective-and-willful-ignorance/

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Who were the “enemies of the cross” in Philippians?  They could have belonged to more than one camp, including early Gnostics, who thought that matter was evil, so the human body was evil.  So Jesus could not have died on a cross or then risen from the dead, according to Gnostics.  Hence Gnostics were not Christians.  And, since they considered the human body to be evil, some favored starving it.  Others gorged it.

Meanwhile, in Genesis, elderly Abram trusted God’s promise of progeny.

And because he put his trust in the LORD, He reckoned it to his merit.

–Genesis 15:6, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

The Lukan reading requires some textual context.  In Chapter 13:1-21 alone we find the following happening:

  1. Jesus encourages repentance. (1-5)
  2. Jesus tells a parable about giving a non-productive fig tree extra fertilizer and one more chance to avoid destruction. (6-9)
  3. Jesus heals a crippled woman on the Sabbath.  He incurs criticism for doing this deed on that day. (10-17)
  4. Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a small mustard seed, which produces a very large weed. (18-19)
  5. Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a small amount of yeast which produces enough to feed 150 people. (20-21)

Then we read about entering by the narrow door.  The Kingdom of God is generous, even weed-like, beyond human control, but the portal to it is narrow.

Who are the excluded?  Among them must be the “enemies of the cross,” those who are materialistic (even if some of them regard matter as evil, ironically).  And I propose that among the excluded are so persnickity about religious matters (such as the Sabbath) that they do not live compassionately.  They have the outward forms yet lack the substance.  God welcomes the repentance of all.  So God does not exclude anyone.  Yet the excluded define themselves as such by not repenting.

As we continue to read we find that our Lord’s life is at risk (31-35).  In the Gospel of Luke’s narrative Jesus had

resolute turned his face towards Jerusalem. (9:51, The New Jerusalem Bible)

So all of Chapter 13 occurs in the shadow of the cross to come.

To pass through a narrow door one must establish priorities.  Some items will never make the cut, for they are too large.  So one must travel lightly through the narrow door.  May we leave behind the bulky furniture of hatred, greed, resentment, prejudice, discrimination, and legalism, among other things.  And may we take compassion with us; it nullifies the items from the preceding sentence.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 14, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS MAKEMIE, FATHER OF U.S. PRESBYTERIANISM

THE FEAST OF NGAKUKU, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/second-sunday-in-lent-year-c/

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False Prophets, Alleged and Actual   1 comment

Above:  John Calvin

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003663995/)

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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 everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Zechariah 10:1-11:3 (January 31)

Zechariah 11:4-17 (February 1)

Psalm 116 (Morning–January 31)

Psalm 85 (Morning–February 1)

Psalms 26 and 130 (Evening–January 31)

Psalms 25 and 40 (Evening–February 1)

2 Timothy 3:1-17 (January 31)

2 Timothy 4:1-18 (February 1)

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Some Related Posts:

2 Timothy 3-4:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/week-of-proper-4-friday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/week-of-proper-4-saturday-year-2/

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The readings for January 31 and February 1 make more sense together then spread across two days.  That is my conclusion, at least.

“False prophets” is the unifying theme.  In Zechariah the speak lies, console with illusions, and lead members of the flock astray.  Thus God, angered, vows to punish these bad shepherds and provide proper leadership for the human flock.  To continue the theme, we read that, in the Last Days,

There will be some difficult times.  People will be self-centred and avaricious, boastful, arrogant, and rude, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, irreligious; heartless and intractable; they will be slanderers, profligates, savages, and enemies of everything that is good; they will be treacherous and reckless and demented by pride, prefering their own pleasure to God.  They will keep up the outward appearance of religion but will have rejected the inner power of it.

–2 Timothy 3:1b-5a, The New Jerusalem Bible

(Human nature has at least been constant.  The past, present, and future seem identical in this regard.)  Anyhow, we read in 2 Timothy to follow the truth, accept sound teaching, and be on guard against harmful people.

We–beginning with the author of this post–must always be careful not to confuse disagreement with one (in my case, myself) as proof positive that the other person is a bad shepherd, a false prophet, a harmful individual.  Maybe the other person is all those things, but perhaps he or she just has some different opinions.  I am convinced, for example, that early Church leaders were correct to insist that Gnosticism constituted false doctrine.  The main problem with Gnosticism is that it denies the Incarnation, without which there is no Christianity.  That one was easy.  Law and theology are easy at the extremes.  But what about opinions regarding certain points of Calvinism, for example?  Christians of good will can–and do–disagree strongly.  And all follow Jesus.

Speaking of Calvinism, one aspect of it offers a nice and good way out of many disputes.  John Calvin spoke and wrote of a category called “Matters Indifferent.”  Anything in that category is optional.  The Incarnation is vital, but whether one observes Christmas is a Matter Indifferent, for example.  So, with Calvin’s category in mind and a well-honed sense of theological humility before us, may we avoid idolizing our own opinions.  We might change them one day, after all.  And we are imperfect.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 11, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DIONYSIUS OF CORINTH, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY NEYROT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF GEORGE AUGUSTUS SELWYN, ANGLICAN PRIMATE OF NEW ZEALAND

THE FEAST OF SAINT STANISLAUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF KRAKOW

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/devotion-for-january-31-and-february-1-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Jesus Lifts Burdens; Why Do We Impose Them?   1 comment

Above:  Crucifixion Nail

http://www.ablogabouthistory.com/2010/03/03/crucifixion-nail-found-with-templar-bodies/

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Colossians 2:6-15 (The Jerusalem Bible):

You must live your whole life according to the Christ you have received–Jesus the Lord; you must be rooted in him and built on him and held firm by the faith you have been taught, and full of thanksgiving.

Make sure that no one traps you and deprives you of your freedom by some secondhand, empty, rational philosophy based on the principles of this world instead of on Christ.

In his body lives the fulness of divinity, an din him you too find your own fulfilment, in the one who is the head of every Sovereignty and Power.

In him you have been circumcised, with a circumcision not performed by the human hand, but by the complete stripping of your body of flesh.  This is circumcision according to Christ.  You have been buried with him, when you were baptised; and by baptism, too, you have been raised with him through your belief in the power of God who raised him from the dead.  You were dead, because you were sinners and had not been circumcised:  he has brought you to life with him, he has forgiven us all our sins.

He has overridden the Law, and cancelled every record of the debt that we had to pay; he has done away with it by nailing it to the cross; and so he got rid of the Sovereignties and the Powers, and paraded them in public, behind him in his triumphal procession.

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The Collect:

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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There were bad influences in the Colossian church.  There was pressure to embrace Gnosticism, which incorporated astrology, hence Paul’s reference to “some secondhand, empty, rational philosophy based on the principles of this world instead of on Christ.”  And there were those who sought to impose circumcision on the men in the church.  Circumcision, an ancient Jewish tradition, served as a reminder that life comes from God.  But insisting that Gentile men undergo the procedure would have deterred many from joining.

Paul wrote that Jesus lifted burdens at the cross and cancelled old debts there.  So anyone who would impose or reimpose them is wrong.  In Christ, Paul wrote, there is freedom, not spiritual bondage or tyranny.  The grace is free, but not cheap, however.  Paul’s life testified to that fact.  The grace was free and transformative, but his positive response to let to imprisonments, attempted murders, and his martrydom.  Yet he was free in Christ.

Likewise, ten of the twelve original Apostles died as martyrs.  But they were free in Christ.

May we refrain from imposing undue burdens (especially spiritual ones) on each other.  This means shunning legalism and embracing freedom in Christ, wherever it leads.  We are free in Christ to serve and follow him.  The cost might be high, but therein one finds the path to true life.

So why do we impose and reimpose these burdens?  Perhaps we do not know better, for we are mired in our native or adopted traditions.  People do have spiritual blind spots, after all.  Maybe the idea of grace, as radical as it is, frightens us.  Certainly, we might say to ourselves, it cannot be that simple; people ought to jump through some hoops first.  Such attitudes ignore the truth that Jesus took the hoops away, that it is that simple, and that simplicity does not translate into spiritual laziness.  Spiritual simplicity in Christ is rigorous indeed, minus the hoops through which to jump.  If any of this disturbs us, we need to take it to the cross and leave it there.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 14, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATHILDA, QUEEN OF GERMANY

THE FEAST OF KEREOPA AND MAINHERA OF TARANAKI, ANGLICAN MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF PAVEL CHESNOKOV, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF PETER GRAVES, ACTOR

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/14/week-of-proper-18-tuesday-year-1/

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Posted May 4, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Colossians 2

Tagged with ,