Archive for the ‘Image of God’ Tag

Judgment, Mercy, and Ego   1 comment

Above:  The Pharisee and the Publican

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year 1

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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O Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth;

enter not into judgment with thy servants, we beseech thee, but be pleased of thy great kindness to grant,

that we who are now righteously afflicted and bowed down by the sense of our sins,

may be refreshed and lifted up with the joy of thy salvation.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 152

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Malachi 3:1-6

Psalms 130 and 131

Philippians 3:7-15

Luke 18:1-17

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Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  I do not pretend to know what that balance is, for I know I am not God.  Standards of behavior exist, however.  They include not practicing sorcery, committing adultery, swearing falsely, cheating workers of wages, and subverting the cause of the widow, the orphan, and the stranger.  I wonder how many people ignore the mandate of economic justice and of protecting strangers, encoded into the Law of Moses, present in the books of the Hebrew prophets, and extant in Christian moral teaching, and consider themselves sufficiently moral.

Lists, such as the one in Malachi 3:5, are not comprehensive.  They are not supposed to be.  They do, however, prompt us to consider what, in our context, we would add to any given list, consistent with the lists from the Bible.  These lists, never intended to be comprehensive, contain timeless principles and some timeless examples, too.

Such lists condemn almost all of us, do they not?  As the author of Psalm 130 asked, if God were to count sins, who could stand?  Yet we know that divine judgment is real, as is mercy.

Recognition of total dependence on God is a principle in Judaism and Christianity, from the Law of Moses to the writings of St. Paul the Apostle.  Yes, we bear the image of God.  Yes, we are slightly lower than “the gods”–members of the divine court–usually translated into English as “the angels.”  No, we are not pond scum.  Yet we are also powerless to commit any righteousness other than what Lutheran theology categorizes as civic righteousness.  Civil righteousness is objectively good, but it cannot save us.

For many people, the main idol to surrender to God is ego.  People will go far to protect ego.  They will frequently disregard objective reality and continue to believe disproven statements to protect ego.  They will commit violence to protect ego sometimes.  Some people even slander and/or libel others to protect ego.

Yet, as St. Paul the Apostle, who knew about his ego, understood, ego was rubbish before Christ.

How much better would the world be if more people cared about glorifying God, not themselves?

I do not pretend to have reached a great spiritual height and surrendered my ego.  No, I continue to struggle with it.  I do know something, however.  I know from observation that giving power, from the church level to the national and global levels, to a person with either an inferiority complex or a raging ego is folly at best and doom at worst.  One with an inferiority complex will seek to build up oneself, not the church, country, world, et cetera.  An egomaniac will behave in the same way, with the same results.  People with balanced egos are the ones to work for the common good.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 26, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGARET CLITHEROW, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 1586

THE FEAST OF FLANNERY O’CONNOR, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC WRITER

THE FEAST OF GEORGE RUNDLE PRYNNE, ANGLICAN PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JAMES RENDEL HARRIS, ANGLO-AMERICAN CONGREGATIONALIST THEN QUAKER BIBLICAL SCHOLAR AND ORIENTALIST; ROBERT LUCCOCK BENSLY, ENGLISH BIBLICAL TRANSLATOR AND ORIENTALIST; AGNES SMITH LEWIS AND MARGARET DUNLOP SMITH GIBSON, ENGLISH BIBLICAL SCHOLARS AND LINGUISTS; SAMUEL SAVAGE LEWIS, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND LIBRARIAN OF CORPUS CHRISTI COLLEGE; AND JAMES YOUNG, SCOTTISH UNITED PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND LITERARY TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT LUDGER, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF MUNSTER

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Parts of One Body I   2 comments

Above:  King Hezekiah

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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2 Chronicles 29:1-10 or Joshua 7 (portions)

Psalm 79

Ephesians 4:17-32

Luke 6:1-11

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The Law of Moses teaches, among other lessons, that we are responsible to and for each other.  Experiences and the past teach us that one person can improve the situation of many people or cause unfortunate events to befall them.  As we read in Ephesians 4:25,

we belong to one another as parts of one body.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

May we, belonging to one another as parts of one body, put on the new nature created in God’s likeness.  May we, therefore, build each other up every day–even commit good works on the Sabbath.  May we rejoice in each other’s blessings and support each other during times of adversity and suffering.  May those in positions of authority and power build up their countries and the world for the long-term common good, not selfishly build up themselves and boost their egos at high costs to many others.  May those who violate this principle fall from power, and may people who will honor this principle replace them.  May all of us love ourselves as people who bear the image of God then extend that love to all other human beings.  Such radical, certainly politically and socially subversive love and respect is consistent with Jewish and Christian moral teaching.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 20, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SEBASTIAN CASTELLIO, PROPHET OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPHER WORDSWORTH, HYMN WRITER AND ANGLICAN BISHOP OF LINCOLN

THE FEAST OF ELLEN GATES STARR, U.S. EPISCOPALIAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC SOCIAL ACTIVIST AND REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA JOSEFA SANCHO DE GUERRA, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SERVANTS OF JESUS

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL RODIGAST, GERMAN LUTHERAN ACADEMIC AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2020/03/20/devotion-for-the-sixth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-humes/

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https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2020/03/20/devotion-for-proper-4-year-c-humes/

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Respecting the Image of God in Others, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  The Pool, by Palma il Giovane

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Third Sunday of the Season of God the Father, Year 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty God, who hast given us authority to rule the earth according to thy will:

enable us to manage things with reason and love,

that the whole creation may give thee praise;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 127

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Genesis 1:24-27

Romans 8:18-23

John 5:1-17

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We humans are not the only intelligent beings on the planet.  Studies of animal intelligence prove this point.  Mimi, the stray cat I feed and pet, possesses intelligence, is self-aware, and responds to her environment in a manner that keeps her alive, for example.  I suspect that she knows more about me than I know about her, actually.  Furthermore, dolphins and whales are highly intelligent.  We humans have a responsibility to protect our neighbors who belong to other species, for the common good.

We humans are the only ones, however, to bear the image of God, metaphorically.  God is spirit, after all.  We have dominion over stewardship, not ownership, of the planet and all that dwells therein.  With great power comes great responsibility.  May we exercise that responsibility well and faithfully, thereby leaving creation better than we found it.

May we also leave each other better than we found each other.  May we ignore irrelevant, dehumanizing, categories and respect the image of God in each other from womb to tomb.  This position cuts across the political spectrum, for, in this matter, labels such as liberal, moderate, and conservative are irrelevant and unhelpful.  The label “loving” is germane and helpful, though, especially when navigating morally gray areas and difficult decisions according to which harm will come to somebody regardless of the choice one makes.  A slogan I heard decades ago says,

YOU CANNOT NOT DECIDE.

When we decide, may the love of Christ compel us.

What would Jesus do?  Which families would Jesus separate at the U.S.-Mexican border?  Whom would Jesus insult with racism?  Whom would Jesus exploit?  Whom would Jesus force to reside in substandard housing?  Whose life would Jesus disregard?  Which people would Jesus see and not recognize the image of God in them?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 26, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANNE AND JOACHIM, PARENTS OF SAINT MARY OF NAZARETH

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Humility Before God, Part V   3 comments

Above:  Belshazzar’s Feast, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Daniel 5:1-7, 17-30

Psalm 22:23-31

2 Timothy 2:1-15

Mark 14:1-11

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Before I address my main point, I write about two historical problems with Daniel 5 and 6.  Belshazzar was never a king, for example.  His father was Nabonidus (reigned 556-539 B.C.E.), the last king of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  In 539 B.C.E. Cyrus II of the Persians and the Medes conquered the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire .  Darius the Mede (6:1), a supposed predecessor of Cyrus II, was fictitious.  At best Belshazzar was the regent or viceroy his father when his father was away.  The chronology within the Book of Daniel makes no sense, regardless of whether one restricts oneself to the Hebrew version or the version with Greek additions. The Book of Daniel is not history; its chronology contradicts other portions of the Hebrew Bible.  That fact does not mean, of course, that we cannot read it in a spiritually profitable manner.

Humility before God is a theme running through the assigned readings.  Belshazzar was far from humble before God.  The author of Psalm 22 preached the virtues of being in the awe of God, a term we usually read or hear translated as “fear of God.”  St. Paul the Apostle, who knew much about ego, obeyed God and suffered for his obedience.  The unnamed woman who anointed Jesus at the home of Simon the leper in Bethany demonstrated extravagant love and humility; she did not care about how she looked.

To be humble is to be down to earth, literally.  In the context of God each of us should recognize his or her relative insignificance.  Yet we bear the image of God, as Cyrus II was.  Divine grace can flow through us to others.  That should be sufficient status for us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 21, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALOYSIUS GONZAGA, JESUIT

THE FEAST OF BERNARD ADAM GRUBE, GERMAN-AMERICAN MINISTER, MISSIONARY, COMPOSER, AND MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF CARL BERNHARD GARVE, GERMAN MORAVIAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN JONES AND JOHN RIGBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2019/06/21/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-in-lent-year-b-humes/

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Exploitation III   Leave a comment

Above:  Moses, by Edward Peck Sperry, 1897

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-31841

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For the Second Sunday in Lent, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Lord Jesus Christ, our only King, who came in the form of a servant:

control our wills and restrain our selfish ambitions,

that we may seek thy glory above all things and fulfill our lives in thee.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 121

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Exodus 34:1-9

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Matthew 7:24-29

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When I was a boy, I had a collection of Arch Books.  Each volume, a thin paperback book, told one Bible story in words and pictures.  This was a wonderful way for a child to learn Bible stories.  The Arch Book for the parable from Matthew 7:24-27 has lodged itself in my memory.

Jesus likened himself to a rock.  Moses was atop a mountain in Exodus 19 when he received far more than ten commandments from God.  (The commandments fill Exodus 20-24.)  Moses was atop a mountain again, to receive more commandments and stone tablet versions (Exodus 25-31).  While Moses was away, impatient Israelites broke the covenant.  Moses, in anger, broke the first stone tablets (Exodus 32).  Then Moses interceded on behalf of the people (Exodus 32-33).  God restored the covenant in Exodus 34.

We are supposed to read Exodus 34 in the context of the rest of the Torah narrative and of the Hebrew Bible more broadly.  We know of the unfortunate habit of murmuring and of relatively short memories of God’s mighty acts yet long memories of Egyptian leftovers.

I am not a psychologist, but psychology intrigues me.  Therefore, I listen and read closely in the field.  What we remember and what we forget–and why–indicates much about our character and about human nature, for good and for ill.  Often our minds work against the better angels of our nature; much of remembering and forgetting is a matter of the unconscious mind.  As rational as many of us try to be and like to think of ourselves as being, we tend to be irrational, panicky creatures who forget that, when we harm others, we hurt ourselves, too.  We also forget the promises we made recently all too often.

How we behave toward God and how we act toward others are related to each other.  Do we recognize God in others?  If so, that informs how we treat them.  Although I do not see the image of God in Mimi, my feline neighbor whom I feed outside my back door, I recognize her as a creature of God, an animal possessed of great dignity and worthy of respect.  Returning to human relations, the Law of Moses teaches, in terms of timeless principles and culturally specific examples, that we have divine orders to take care of each other, and never to exploit one another.  That commandment applies to societies, institutions, and governments, not just individuals.

Societies, institutions, governments, and individuals who forget or never learn that lesson and act accordingly are like a man who was so foolish that he build his house on sand, not on rock.  The rain will fall, the floods will come, the winds will blow, and the house will fall.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 12, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSAPHAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF POLOTSK, AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCES XAVIER CABRINI, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF THE SACRED HEART

THE FEAST OF RAY PALMER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ARTHUR DUNKERLEY, BRITISH NOVELIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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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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Eschatological Ethics VI: A New Year’s Resolution   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Apocalypse of John

Image in the Public Domain

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For New Year’s Day, Years 1 and 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Judge eternal:  in your purpose our lives are lived,  and by your grace our hopes are bright.

Be with us in the coming year, forgiving, leading, and serving;

so that we may walk without fear, in the way of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Worshipbook:  Services and Hymns (1972), 158

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Eternal God, who makest all things new, and abidest for ever the same:

Grant us to begin this year in Thy faith, and to continue it in Thy favor;

that, being guided in all or doings, and guarded in all our days,

we may spend our days in Thy service, and finally, by Thy grace,

attain the glory of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship (1946), 316

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Deuteronomy 8:1-10

Revelation 21:1-7

Matthew 25:31-46

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To make a new year’s resolution is a frequent exercise in good intentions quickly abandoned for one reason or another.  In the context of the assigned readings, however, I propose a truly daunting resolution for every year.

Only God can save the world, but we (collectively and individually) have a divine commandment to leave it better than we find it.  This is part of eschatological ethics.  Belief in the return of Jesus is no good reason not to obey divine commandments vis-à-vis our environment (being good stewards of it) and loving our neighbors (nearby and far away).  The current world order is inherently corrupt, based on violence and exploitation.  We have the power to reduce the extent to which that statement is true, but not to create Utopia, literally “nowhere.”

May we resolve to live in the awareness of the Presence of God, who commands us to follow the Golden Rule.  May we resolve to acknowledge in thoughts, words, and deeds that thoughts and prayers are frequently inadequate and a cop-out anyway; that God demands that we act to improve situations when we can.  May we resolve to grasp that the command in Matthew 25:31-46 to care for the “least of these” is too much for individuals, and frequently challenging for organizations, whether public or private.  May we resolve to recognize Christ and the image of God in those who make us uncomfortable and are quite different from us.  May we resolve to recognize immigrants and refugees as our neighbors.  May we resolve, simply put, to love each other effectively and actively in the name of God and specifically of Jesus, who demonstrated his sacrificial love.

Love cannot wrong a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

–Romans 13:10, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 24, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY CARY SHUTTLEWORTH, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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