Archive for the ‘Image of God’ Tag

Little Less Than Divine   1 comment

Above:  Icon of the Holy Trinity, by Andrei Rublev

Image in the Public Domain

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 1:1-2:4a

Psalm 8

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Matthew 28:16-20

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Trinity Sunday is the creation of Bishop Stephen of Liege (in office 903-920).  The feast, universal in Roman Catholicism since 1334 by the order of Pope John XXII, is, according to the eminent Lutheran liturgist Philip H. Pfatteicher, author of the Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship (1990), not so much about a doctrine but

the now completed mystery of salvation, which is the work of the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.

–page 301

Famously the word “Trinity” appears nowhere in the Bible, and no single verse or passage gives us that doctrine.  The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the result of much debate, some fistfights, ecumenical councils, Roman imperial politics, and the pondering of various passages of scripture.  The conclusion of 2 Corinthians and Matthew are two of those passages.  Perhaps the best summary of that process in the fourth chapter in Karen Armstrong‘s A History of God (1994).

I, being aware that a set of heresies has its origin in pious attempts to explain the Trinity, refrain from engaging in any of those heresies or creating a new one.  No, I stand in awe of the mystery of God and affirm that the Trinity is as close to an explanation as we humans will have.  We cannot understand the Trinity, and God, I assume, is more than that.

The great myth in Genesis 1:1-2:4a, itself a modified version of the Enuma Elish, affirms, among other key theological concepts, (1) the goodness of creation and (2) the image of God in human beings.  We are not an afterthought.  No, we are the pinnacle of the created order.  These themes carry over into Psalm 8.  The standard English-language translation of one verse (which one it is depends on the versification in the translation one reads) is that God has created us slightly lower than the angels.  That is a mistranslation.  TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) renders the germane passage as

little less than divine.

The Anchor Bible (1965) translation by Mitchell J. Dahood reads

a little less than the gods.

The Hebrew word is Elohim, originally a reference to the council of gods, and therefore a remnant of a time before Jews were monotheists.  An alternative translation is English is

a little lower than God,

which is better than

a little lower than the angels.

Studies of religious history should teach one that Elohim eventually became a synonym for YHWH.

“Little less than divine” seems like an optimistic evaluation of human nature when I consider the past and the present, especially when I think about environmental destruction and human behavior.  But what if Pfatteicher is correct?  What if the work of salvation is complete?  What if the image of God is a great portion of our nature than the actions of many of us might indicate?

In Christ we can have liberation to become the people we ought to be.  In Christ we can achieve our spiritual potential–for the glory of God and the benefit of others.

May we, by grace, let the image of God run loose.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CLIFFORD BAX, POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EUGENIUS OF CARTHAGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF JOHANNES RENATUS VERBEEK, MORAVIAN MINISTER AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF PETER RICKSEEKER, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MISSIONARY, MUSICIAN, MUSIC EDUCATOR, AND COMPOSER; STUDENT OF JOHANN CHRISTIAN BECHLER, MORAVIAN MINISTER , MUSICIAN, MUSIC EDUCATOR, AND COMPOSER; FATHER OF JULIUS THEODORE BECHLER, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MUSICIAN, EDUCATOR, AND COMPOSER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/07/13/devotion-for-trinity-sunday-year-a-humes/

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Good Religion and Bad Religion   Leave a comment

Above:  Neighbors Sign, Athens, Georgia, October 12, 2017

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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Nobody must imagine that he is religious while he still goes on deceiving himself and not keeping control over his tongue; anyone who does this has the wrong idea of religion.  Pure, unspoiled religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this:  coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.

–James 1:26-27, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

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Theoretical arguments are marginally interesting to me, for I value the verdict of tangible results.  I, as a student of history-or religious and civil rights history in particular–know that innocuous-sounding slogans and talking points can conceal institutional immorality.

Local solutions to local problems,

for example, was, during many political campaigns of 1970 in the U.S. South an affirmation of de jure segregation of public schools (about to end), not of federalism per se.

During the last few days I have been immersing myself in the lives of saints, drafting 28 hagiographies (for July 21-August 13) in preparation for a few days of intensive blogging at SUNDRY THOUGHTS, the parent of this weblog.  Certain saints have lingered in my thoughts.  When Clarence Jordan (1912-1969) grew up in Talbotton, Georgia, he wondered how many church-going people could support Jim Crow laws.  Jordan (pronounced JER-dun) grew up to become a radical figure–a pacifist and a supporter of racial integration–in reactionary southwestern rural Georgia.  St. Dominic (c. 1170-1221), founder of the Order of Preachers, also known as the Dominicans and the Black Friars, eagerly preached orthodoxy in the face of heresy while he deplored the Church’s use of violence against heretics.  Correct methods were essential to success, he said.

The relationship between one’s attitudes and one’s religion can be complicated.  Yes, one who is unapologetically bigoted might gravitate toward a racist, xenophobic, dare I say it–deplorable–theology.  And yes, one who is progressive might choose a liberal theology.  Nevertheless, one should not underestimate the power of religion to transform a person for good or for ill.  You, O reader, probably know or have known someone with whom you could get along easily before he or she had a conversion experience.  Likewise, religion can also make one one charitable in spirit and in deeds.

Staying true to my standard of tangible results, I assert that good religion makes one a better person–a loving, generally tolerant human being.  Good religion does not lead one to deny any person his or her basic human rights.  Good religion flows from the selfless, unconditional love of God.  Good religion makes one an agent of that love.  Good religion encourages decency.

I admit freely to the role of my background in formulating these thoughts.  I recall living in Alapaha, Georgia, from June 1989 to June 1991, when my father was the pastor of the Alapaha United Methodist Church in town and the Glory United Methodist Church a few miles outside of town.  One of our neighbors, as well as a parishioner, I remember, was Henry, an older man.  I cannot forget the day I overheard Henry announce that he was about to perform some “Afro-American engineering,” an undisguised racist term he used in lieu of the even more offensive “nigger rigging.”  I remember feeling uncomfortable as I heard those words and knowing that Henry should have known better.  I know, based on clear memories, that Henry was no outlier.

I, as a historian, understand that context matters greatly.  I, as a historian who, in academic writing, has quoted offensive statements, many of them containing slurs, grasp that the only morally acceptable way  to repeat some language is to quote it while making clear that I disapprove of the content of that quote.  I also know that Henry was not quoting.

Good religion does not make excuses for any prejudice directed at a human being or any population.  No, good religion recognizes the image of God in others.  Good religion follows a consistent ethic of divine love, regardless of where on the political spectrum that love places one.  Besides, terms such as liberal, conservative, reactionary, and revolutionary are inherently relative, having no fixed, timeless meaning with regard to policy proposals.

I, as a Christian, point to Jesus as the embodiment of good religion.  If I were to do otherwise, I would have only a pretense of a legitimate claim to call myself a Christian.  I recognize Jesus in his historical, socio-political-economic, and religious contexts as a figure still radical by contemporary standards, even in much of organized Christianity.

Good religion is a high calling–seemingly an impossible standard.  It is an impossible standard, relying on human strengths.  It is possible only via grace.  Each of us falls short of good religion in its fullness, and always will on this side of Heaven.  By grace we can do better, though.  May we do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 9, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT COLUMBA OF IONA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY AND ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT GIOVANNI MARIA BOCCARDO, FOUNDER OF THE POOR SISTERS OF SAINT CAJETAN/GAETANO; AND HIS BROTHER, SAINT LUIGI BOCCARDO, “APOSTLE OF MERCIFUL LOVE”

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSÉ DE ANCHIETA, APOSTLE OF BRAZIL AND FATHER OF BRAZILIAN NATIONAL LITERATURE

THE FEAST OF THOMAS JOSEPH POTTER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

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Empowered by God, Part IV   Leave a comment

Above:  Samuel Anoints David

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE ELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we are to pray,

and you are wont to give more than either we desire or deserve:

Pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,

forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid,

and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask,

but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 140

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1 Samuel 16:1-13

Psalm 20

2 Corinthians 3:4-11, 17-18

Luke 11:1-4, 9-13

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Last week’s reading from 1 Samuel (9:15-17; 10:1) tells of the prophet Samuel anointing Saul the first King of Israel.  This week, after the divine rejection of Saul, we have the same prophet anointing David.  Saul remains on the throne for some time, however.

With a divine mandate comes great responsibility.  Part of that responsibility is maintaining a proper relationship with God.  Such a relationship is necessarily evident in our dealings with other people, along with whom we rely entirely on God.  This element can be challenging, for we will not like everyone we encounter–nor should we.  By grace we can, however, recognize the image of God in them and therefore treat them accordingly.  We might even see untapped and surprising potential in many of them.  Shall we at least try?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 5, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

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

THE FEAST OF ANTONIO LOTTI, ROMAN CATHOLIC MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER

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

THE FEAST OF MARGARET MACKAY, SCOTTISH HYMN WRITER

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The Tribe of Alleged Heretics and/or Apostates   Leave a comment

Above:  My Heretic Shirt

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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Although some have accused me of apostasy, I am not an apostate.  And, despite allegations of heresy, I do not consider myself a heretic.

The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1973) defines apostasy as

a total desertion of or departure from one’s religion, principles, party, cause, etc.

The same reference work, noting that “heresy” derives from Greek and Latin words for choosing, defines heresy as

opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, esp. of a church or religious system.

Doctrinal purity tests generally irk me.  One reason is that I fail them.  I know enough ecclesiastical history to state confidently that, within the Western Christian tradition alone, the Roman Catholic magisterium has redefined aspects of orthodoxy more than once.  One might point to the case of Origen (185-254), one of the Ante-Nicene Fathers.  He was orthodox, especially with regard to Trinitarian theology, during his lifetime.  After the First Council of Nicaea (325), however, he became a heretic of the ex post facto variety.  Furthermore, many of the items on doctrinal purity tests are not key to salvation.  My rejection of the Virgin Birth, therefore, should not marginalize me theologically.

I have always been intrinsically intellectual.  The dominant form of Christianity around me during my formative years was anti-intellectual, reactionary, Pietistic, and revivalistic Protestantism.  It never fit me.  I have also always been an introvert.  Thus the contemplative traditions of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have appealed to me.  Also, the extroversion typical of Evangelicalism has alienated me from Evangelicalism.  No, ritualism, contemplation, and dispassionate intellectualism have defined my spirituality.

Recently I have heard, in close quarters, condemnations of my “apostate” Episcopal Church.  I have rejected the adjective, of course.

If, however, the reasons for the allegation of apostasy are related to ecclesiastical support for social justice, I embrace the label of “apostate” as a badge of pride.  Yes, I support full civil rights for all human beings, including homosexuals.  I reject homophobia, for I recognize the image of God in people, many of whom are quite different from me.  Yes, I favor the ordination of women.  Equality via the Holy Spirit is a wonderful lesson to learn from many strands of Christian tradition.  I understand that these positions are, according to many of my fellow Christians, heretical, if not apostate.  So be it.  I can do no other.

Various mysteries of the universe perplex me.  One of these is why, in the name of Jesus Christ, so many self-defined conservative Christians adopt political positions that would make Atilla the Hun look like a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) by comparison.  In this context I feel comfortable claiming the tribe of alleged heretics and/or apostates as my own.  In so doing I identify with Jesus, friend of outsiders.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 2, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE NINTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN KONRAD WILHELM LOEHE, BAVARIAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND COORDINATOR OF DOMESTIC AND FOREIGN MISSIONS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS NARCISSUS, ARGEUS, AND MARCELLINUS OF TOMI, ROMAN MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ODILO OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SABINE BARING-GOULD, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Human Weaknesses and Divine Faithfulness   1 comment

Above:  Temptations of Jesus

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Almighty God, you see that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves:

Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls,

that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body,

and from all evil thoughts which may hurt the soul;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 95

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Ezekiel 33:7-16

Psalm 18

1 John 2:1-3, 15-17

Mark 1:9-12

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A witty saying tells us,

I can resist anything except temptation.

Temptations are indeed strong and alluring, therefore, for lack of a better word, tempting.  We, although created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), are “but dust” (Psalm 103:14).  We are accountable for our sins (not those of our ancestors; read Ezekiel 18), although the sins of ancestors might affect ancestors for generations (hence Exodus 34:7).  We are far from hopeless, fortunately, for we have Christ (who knows temptation) and the Holy Spirit interceding for us (John 14:16 and 26; John 15:26).

But how will we respond to the reality of our responsibility and of divine love?  Even if we strive to accept our responsibility and to welcome divine love, we might behave badly.  We might be like St. Paul the Apostle in Romans 7, knowing what we ought to do yet being incapable of doing it.  Or we might not know precisely what we ought to do.  Principles might be plain enough, but their practical applications might prove mysterious to us.  Another problem might be the category of sins of omission, which can be more difficult to recognize than sins of commission.

Fortunately, God is faithful; we can rely on that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT:  THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON, ABOLITIONIST AND FEMINIST; AND MARIA STEWART, ABOLITIONIST, FEMINIST, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB AND DOROTHY BUXTON, FOUNDERS OF SAVE THE CHILDREN

THE FEAST OF FRANK MASON NORTH, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER

THE FEAST OF MARY CORNELIA BISHOP GATES, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED HYMN WRITER

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Deplorables   1 comment

Then [Jesus] called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand:  it not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”

–Matthew 15:10-11, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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If Jesus were speaking today, he would include websites and social media in that statement.

I used to be a news junkie.  In the middle and late 1980s, I could recognize the names of most of the United States Senators.  In 2015 and 2016, however, I began to choose being sane over being thoroughly informed.  I also decided to tend to my spiritual life more; certain public figures were bad for it, increasing exponentially my use of profanities (in private, under my breath, of course).  I did not grow up using that kind of language routinely.

I have been monitoring the news during the last few days and becoming more horrified with each passing day.  The news stories from Charlottesville, Virginia, and now from Spain have not ceased to develop, but I have collected enough information to make a few informed and moral statements.

Racism is a sin, one that I learned by societal osmosis.  Fortunately, my parents raised me well, to reject racism.

Whenever the sin of racism raises its ugly head in my thoughts (which is to say, often), I reject it and take it to God in confessional mode.  I make no excuses for racism in myself or anyone else.  Related to that ethic, I reject all biases directed at people–on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, national origin, ethnicity, gender, et cetera.  Each of us bears the image of God, and therefore carries inherent dignity.  This is a morally consistent position, regardless of the mixed political labels attached to it.

Furthermore, I condemn almost all violence, for most of it is unnecessary and morally wrong.  I do understand defense of oneself and others, however.  Human nature is flawed and the world is imperfect, after all.  Certainly I condemn the violence of the racist thugs at Charlottesville last Saturday and the terrorists in Spain yesterday.  I do so without any hesitation and backtracking.  The political causes differ, but the problem of violent radicalization is the same.  The reality of the killing and injuring of innocent people is also consistent, as is the use of vehicles as deadly weapons.

Contrary to the unscripted words of the increasingly politically isolated inhabitant of the White House, he who has professed to care about getting facts straight then who, in the wake of the attacks in Spain, has tweeted a lie about General John J. Pershing killing Muslims with bullets dipped in the blood of pigs, there was no moral equivalence between Klansmen and neo-Nazis on one side and anti-racist protesters on the other.  One of the chants of the violent racists at Charlottesville was

The Jews will not replace us.

How could there, in Trump’s words, have been

very fine people

on both sides?  This week Trump seems to have prompted many prominent Republicans in Congress to do what I had thought impossible:  grow spines.  True, based on news reports, the Vice President, based on his public comments, seems to remain an invertebrate, but the list of prominent Republican vertebrates grows longer with each passing day.

I propose a simple test for one’s denunciations of neo-Nazis and Klansmen, the sort of people who chant

The Jews will not replace us.

The condemnation must be unequivocal and focused.  Klansmen and neo-Nazis must hear it and find in it no reason to agree with any of it or take comfort in it.  None of this describes Trump’s unscripted remarks, the ones that preceded his scripted remarks, the ones he retracted.

Trump could have averted this Charlottesville-related political firestorm easily.  All he had to do was make an unequivocal statement condemning Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and other white supremacists as well as their violence then be consistent.  But he did not do that.  He has also blamed others for the mess he made for himself.  Trump has also been more eager to condemn journalists (calling them enemies) and CEOs with social consciences (accusing them of grandstanding) than Klansmen and neo-Nazis.

Everything is wrong with this picture.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 18, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ERDMANN NEUMEISTER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PORCHER DUBOSE, EPISCOPAL THEOLOGIAN

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Adapted from this post:

https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2017/08/18/deplorables/

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Psalms 79-81   1 comment

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POST XXXI OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

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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 226

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“Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  For as you judge others, so you will yourselves be judged, and whatever measure you deal out will be dealt to you.”

–Matthew 7:1-2, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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The quest for revenge–in this case, for conquering the Kingdom of Judah (and possibly the Kingdom of Israel before that) and destroying the Temple at Jerusalem–recurs in the Book of Psalms.  Likewise, I keep repeating my condemnation of vengeance and the desire for it, just as I understand why the emotion is so powerful.  Matthew 7:1-2 is an appropriate rebuff to the authors of Psalms 79 and 80.  One should seek the repentance of enemies, national and individual.  It is better to have more friends and fellow travelers along the path of righteousness than foes.  Furthermore, repentance works to the spiritual benefit of the enemies, also bearers of the image of God.

We know that not all who need to repent will do, unfortunately.  Thus we may speak and write accurately of the judgment that will befall those who refuse to repent.  We ought never to gloat over the fate of the wicked not to seek that fate for anyone, though.  And, as Psalm 81 tells us, not just enemies of people like us need to repent; we might need to do so also.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 14, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CROFT, ANGLICAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JONATHAN MYRICK DANIELS, EPISCOPAL SEMINARIAN AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF MATTHIAS CLAUDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAXIMILIAN KOLBE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

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