Archive for the ‘Johann Sebastian Bach’ Tag

Building Up Each Other in Christ, Part VIII   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday of Advent, Year 2

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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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Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness,

and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life,

in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility;

that in the last day, when he shall come again in his

glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead,

we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth

with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 105

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Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 46

Hebrews 10:19-25

Matthew 25:1-13

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“Desist!  Realize that I am God!

I dominate the nations;

I dominate the earth.”

–Psalm 46:11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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…for he is utterly dependable….

J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972)

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Three themes dominate this group of four readings.  They are:

  1. the reliability of God,
  2. the sovereignty of God, and
  3. the balance of divine judgment and mercy.

In the full Biblical sense, to believe in God is to trust God.  Whenever someone asks me if I believe in God, I reply first by asking what he or she means by “believe in God.”  The second part of my answer depends on what the person means.  I am glad to answer honestly, but I need to know what the question really is.  I always affirm the existence of God.  That is insufficient, though.  I trust God most of the time.  I know the meaning of

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.

–Matthew 9:24

Trusting God can be difficult, especially during times of distress.

I publish this devotional post during a time of global and national distress.  The COVID-19 pandemic, made worse by human irresponsibility (both collective and individual) is taking lives, damaging lives, and wrecking economies.  Right-wing populism, fueled by hatred and resentment, remains firmly entrenched in the mainstream of politics in many nation-states.  Misinformation and what Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) called “damn lies” spread quickly via the internet and other media.  Achieving a consensus regarding what constitutes objective reality has become increasingly difficult in this age of “alternative facts.”  Incivility is on the rise.

Affirming with my lips, pens, pencils, and computer keyboards that God dominates the earth and is utterly dependable is easier than internalizing that message.  Yet I think about Jeremiah, who watched homeland, reduced to vassalage to the Babylonian/Neo-Chaldean Empire, near its end at the hands of that empire.  I recall his documented struggles with God.  And I read a bold yet partially-fulfilled prediction in 31:31-34.

God is faithful, as we must be.  Collective and individual responsibility are Biblical virtues.  The parable in Matthew 25:1-13 reminds us of our individual responsibility.  It tells us that there are some spiritual tasks nobody can fulfill for us.  And mutuality remains a principle that carries over from the Law of Moses.

I consider the epistle reading.  Hebrews 10:19-25 is usually a passage assigned for Good Friday.  Scheduling this passage for the First Sunday of Advent makes much sense and fits with precedents.  One may detect, for example, the inclusion of the classical Passion Chorale (with words other than those for Good Friday) in some sacred music for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.  One may recognize this motif in certain compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.  To think of the crucifixion near and at Christmas is appropriate.

The advice, set in the context of faith community, to build up each other and to provoke one another to love and good deeds is timeless and sage counsel.  It falls into the category of mutuality.  May we, collectively and individually, look out for each other and take care of each other.  May we seek to build up each other, not tear each other down.  May we bolster each other in healthy faith.  May we love according to the standard of the Golden Rule and 1 Corinthians 13.  May we succeed, by faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 27, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES INTERCISUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 421

THE FEAST OF JAMES MILLS THOBURN, ISABELLA THOBURN, AND CLARA SWAIN, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARIES TO INDIA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COOKE AND BENJAMIN WEBB, ANGLICAN PRIESTS AND TRANSLATORS OF HYMNS

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Pointing Toward Jesus   Leave a comment

Above:  St. John the Baptist

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 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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Stir up, O Lord, we beseech thee, thy power, and come,

with great might to succor us, that by the help of thy grace

whatsoever is hindered by our sins may be speedily accomplished,

through thy mercy and satisfaction;

who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

ever, One God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 111

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Isaiah 9:2-7

Psalm 8

Hebrews 12:1-12

Luke 1:59-80

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Before I get to my main point, two assigned passages call out for elucidation.

  1. The literal translation of the line from Psalm 8 is, “a little lower than the gods,” not “a little lower than the angels.”  The “gods,” or elohim, in Hebrew, are members of YHWH’s heavenly court.
  2. Isaiah 9:2-7 speaks of the ideal Davidic king.  Perhaps the original monarch was Hezekiah of Judah (reigned 727/715-698/687 B.C.E.).  The description fits Jesus better.

The juxtaposition of Luke 1:59-80 and Hebrews 12:1-12 may seem odd at first.  Upon reflection, however, its purpose becomes clear and plain.  This juxtaposition functions as a reminder of the purpose behind the Incarnation:  the Atonement, via the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  One may recall that Johann Sebastian Bach incorporated the Passion Chorale into the Christmas Oratorio.  We are correct to rejoice during the seasons of Advent and Christmas, but one must not stop there.  No, we need to follow Jesus to Calvary then to an empty tomb, too.

We read foreshadowing of the crucifixion of Jesus in the lesson from Luke 1.  Do we not know the fat that befell St. John the Baptist?

What then will this child become?

–Luke 1:66b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

A question for each of us is,

What then will I become?

May all of us become agents of God whenever and wherever we are.  We cannot, temporally, be forerunners of Jesus.  We can, however, point to him, as St. John the Baptist did.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 11, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN SWERTNER, DUTCH-GERMAN MORAVIAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND HYMNAL EDITOR; AND HIS COLLABORATOR, JOHN MUELLER, GERMAN-ENGLISH MORAVIAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNAL EDITOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT AENGUS THE CULDEE, HERMIT AND MONK; AND SAINT MAELRUAN, ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT EULOGIUS OF SPAIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF TOLEDO, CORDOBA; AND SAINT LEOCRITA; ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 859

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS WAYLAND, U.S. BAPTIST MINISTER, EDUCATOR, AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAL PRENNUSHI, ALBANIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1948

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Feeling Uncomfortable   1 comment

Above:  Icon of the Magnificat

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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Micah 5:1-5

Luke 1:46-56

Hebrews 10:5-10

Luke 1:39-45

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The Fourth Sunday of Advent is, appropriately, a time to focus on the Messiah.  As I wrote in the previous post, Zephaniah 3:14-20 is not a messianic prophecy.  Micah 5:105 is, however.

The Magnificat is a beautiful and a familiar text.  Perhaps the main problem one has when reading a familiar text is going on autopilot.  I challenge you, O reader, as much as I challenge myself, to resist that temptation.  Read the Magnificat again, with eyes as fresh as possible.  Consider the theme of reversal of fortune; that theme is prominent in the Gospel of Luke.  Does that portrayal of God make you uncomfortable?  Does it challenge any of your values?

The Magnificat is one of the texts that remind me of an observation I read on the back of a church bulletin years ago:

The purpose of the Gospel is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

That description applies to the Gospel of Luke.

Then turn with me, O reader, to Hebrews 10:5-10, usually a text for Good Friday.  One may recall that the Passion Chorale is present in the Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach.  Reading Hebrews 10:5-10 on this Sunday and hearing Hans Leo Hassler‘s Passion Chorale in the Season of Christmas reminds us of why the Incarnation occurred.

That becomes very uncomfortable quite quickly.  If we find it uncomfortable, we need to consider how Jesus felt on the cross.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 11, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN SWERTNER, DUTCH-GERMAN MORAVIAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND HYMNAL EDITOR; AND HIS COLLABORATOR, JOHN MUELLER, GERMAN-ENGLISH MORAVIAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNAL EDITOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT AENGUS THE CULDEE, HERMIT AND MONK; AND SAINT MAELRUAN, ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT EULOGIUS OF SPAIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF TOLEDO, CORDOBA; AND SAINT LEOCRITA; ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 859

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS WAYLAND, U.S. BAPTIST MINISTER, EDUCATOR, AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAL PRENNUSHI, ALBANIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1948

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2020/03/11/devotion-for-the-fourth-sunday-of-advent-year-c-humes/

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Deciding or Refusing to Repent   1 comment

Adoration of the Shepherds, by Mikael Toppelius

Above:  The Adoration of the Shepherds, by Mikael Toppelius

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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Isaiah 6:(8) 9-13 or Jeremiah 10:1-16 (17-25)

Psalm 35 or 94

John 12:17-19, 37-50

Romans 11:2b-28 (29-32) 33-36

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You have seen, O LORD, do not be silent!

O Lord, do not be far from me!

–Psalm 35:22, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Happy are those whom you discipline, O LORD,

and whom you touch out of your law,

giving them respite from days of trouble,

until a pit is dug for the wicked.

For the Lord will not forsake his people;

he will not abandon his heritage;

for justice will return to the righteous,

and all the upright in heart will follow it.

–Psalm 94:12-15, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Some of the readings for this occasion seem to indicate that God has, at various times, designated entire populations and refused to permit them to repent of their sins.  This reading is at odds with the theology of unlimited atonement (by Jesus, via his death and resurrection), which ends a process begun by the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as Jesus of Nazareth.  My understanding is that (A) all of us are sinners, (B) God desires all sinners to repent, and (C) many sinners simply refuse to repent.  In Judaism one can find an interpretation of the lection from Isaiah that insists that God predicted that many people would not understand and did not desire them to fail to understand.  In this reading First Isaiah’s mission was to help people to repent, not to prevent it.  This makes sense to me.

Why might one not repent?  One might identify a set of reasons, but perhaps the most basic reason is that one must recognize something as an error before one seeks to correct it.  Spiritual blindness is a major problem from which all people suffer.  We can, by grace, see what occupies our blind spots.  Assuming that we do this, do we want to change?  Maybe we think that necessary change is pointless or too difficult.  Or perhaps we are simply afraid to take action by trusting in God and venturing into unknown (to us) spiritual territory.  Either way, one does not repent.

Whoever loves himself or herself more than God is lost, we read in John 12.  To be a Christian is to follow Jesus, who went to a cross then a tomb, which he occupied only briefly.

To think this much about Good Friday and Easter Sunday on Christmas Day might seem odd, but it is theologically correct.  The recognition of this reality is hardly new.  Indeed, Johann Sebastian Bach incorporated the Passion Chorale tune into his Christmas Oratorio.

Grace is free to all, fortunately.  Yet many will not accept it and the demands accompanying it.  Each of us has a responsibility to say “yes” to God, whose grace is always free and never cheap.  Each of us has a responsibility to love his or her neighbors as he or she loves himself or herself.  Doing so will, for different people, lead to different ends in this life, and translate into action in a variety of ways, depending on circumstances.  The principle is constant, however.  Jesus, who came to us first as a baby, demands nothing less than taking up one’s cross and following him.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 30, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRIETTE LUISE VON HAYN, GERMAN MORAVIAN HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/devotion-for-christmas-day-year-d/

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Here Ends Our Advent Journey   1 comment

Above:  John the Baptist, by Titian, 1542

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2 Samuel 7:1-16 (Revised English Bible):

Once the king was established in his palace and the LORD had given him security from his enemies on all sides, he said to Nathan the prophet,

Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the Ark of God is housed in a tent.

Nathan answered,

Do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you.

But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan:

Go and say to David my servant, This is the word of the LORD:  Are you to build me a house to dwell in?  Down to this day I have never dwelt in a house since I brought Israel up from Egypt; I lived in a tent and a tabernacle.  Wherever I journeyed with Israel, did I ever ask any of the judges whom I appointed shepherds of my people Israel why they had not built me a cedar house?

Then say this to my servant David:  This is the word of the LORD of Hosts:  I took you from the pastures and from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel.  I have been with you wherever you have gone, and have destroyed all enemies in your path.  I shall bring you fame like the fame of the great ones of the earth.  I shall assign a place for my people Israel; there I shall plant them to dwell in their own land.  They will be disturbed no more; never again will the wicked oppress them as they did in the past, from the day when I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I shall give you peace from all your enemies.

The LORD has told you that he would built up your royal house.  When your life ends and you rest with your forefathers, I shall set up one of your family, one of your own children, to succeed you, and I shall establish his kingdom.  It is he who is to build a house in honour of my name; and I shall establish his royal throne for all time.  I shall be a father to him, and he will be my son.  When he does wrong, I shall punish him as a father might, and not spare the rod.  But my love will never be withdrawn from him as I withdrew it from Saul, whom I removed from your path.  Your family and your kingdom will be established for ever in my sight; your throne will endure for all time.

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-29 (Revised English Bible):

I shall sing always of the loving deeds of the LORD;

throughout every generation I shall proclaim your faithfulness.

I said:  Your love will stand firm for ever;

in the heavens you have established your faithfulness.

I have made a covenant with the one I have chosen,

I have sworn an oath to my servant David:

“I shall establish your line for ever,

I shall make your throne endure for all generations.”

A time came when you spoke in a vision,

declaring to your faithful servant:

I have granted help to a warrior;

I have exalted one chosen from the people.

I have found David my servant

and anointed him with my sacred oil.

My hand will be ready to help him,

my arm to give him strength.

No enemy will outwit him,

no wicked person will oppress him;

I shall crush his adversaries before him

and strike down those who are hostile to him.

My faithfulness and love will be with him

and through my name he will hold his head high.

I shall establish his rule over the sea,

his dominion over the rivers.

He will say tome, “You are my father,

my God, my rock where I find safety.”

I shall give him the rank of the firstborn,

highest among the kings of the earth.

I shall maintain my love for him for ever

and be faithful in my covenant with him.

I shall establish his line for ever

and his throne as long as the heavens endure.

Luke 1:67-79 (Revised English Bible):

And Zechariah his [John’s] father was filled with the Holy Spirit and uttered this prophecy:

Praise to the Lord, the God of Israel!

For he has turned to his people and set them free.

He has raised for us a strong deliverer

from the House of his servant David.

So he promised: age to age he proclaimed

by the lips of his holy prophets,

that he would deliver us from our enemies,

out of the hands of all who hate us;

that, calling to mind his solemn covenant,

he would deal mercifully with our fathers.

This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham,

to rescue us from enemy hands and set us free from fear,

so that we might worship in his presence

in holiness and righteousness our whole life long.

And you, my child, will be called Prophet of the Most High,

for you will be the Lord’s forerunner, to prepare his way

and lead his people to a knowledge of salvation

through the forgiveness of their sins:

for in the tender compassion of our God

the dawn from heaven will break upon us,

to shine on those who live in darkness, under the shadow of death,

and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

The Collect:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Saint John the Baptist (or Baptizer or Immerser) was the forerunner of Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man, and heir to the House of David.  John identified Jesus, baptized him, and died before Jesus did.

As I have typed these texts and pondered them I have played a recording of the Christmas Oratorio of Johann Sebastian Bach.  It is a glorious work, a product of Bach’s deep Lutheran faith.  One fact about it stands out in mind:  The Christmas Oratorio contains the music to which I am used to singing the great Good Friday hymn, “O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded.”  The liner notes to the two-CD set give the following English translation to the German text of the chorale:

How can I fitly greet Thee,

how rightly Thee extol?

Of Man the best Beloved,

thou treasure of my soul!

O Lord, I pray Thee carry

the torch to light my way,

that I may know thy treasure

and serve Thee day by day!

That is an appropriate attitude for any day, especially that time when Advent transitions into Christmas.  Like John, may you decrease as Jesus increases.

Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 4, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN XXIII, BISHOP OF ROME

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/advent-devotion-for-december-24/

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Posted November 18, 2011 by neatnik2009 in 2 Samuel 7, Luke 1, Psalm 89

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